You no doubt hear this word all the time in Spanish. Maybe you are able to understand it in certain common expressions, but do you find yourself with no idea (ni idea) of how this tiny word actually works or how to use it on your own?
In this guide, we'll unravel the mysteries of this elusive conjunction, from its grammatical usage to some common expressions, and get you using it like a native.
The first thing you need to know is that ni is a form of negation, therefore it’s used in negative sentences. Grammatically speaking ni is a conjunction, linking ideas of the same category.
Let's take a look at the different meanings of ni:
With ni we can negate the same idea about two different subjects. It’s easier to understand with some examples:
In the example, there’s something equally true about Merly and Audrey: they both haven’t been to Australia and we use ni to express this.
Check out the same example with another order:
In this example we start by negating the verb since in Spanish it’s necessary to indicate from the beginning that our sentence is negative. Make sure to use a negation adverb before the verb such as no, nunca or jamás if you’re going to use this structure.
We can also make a negation about a list of things linked by the same idea.
Ni, optionally followed by siquiera (even if), is used to emphasize the lack of the minimum expected from something and it generally follows a negative sentence.
This is a very emphatic and strong way to negate an assumption someone’s making because it seems obvious this assumption isn’t true. The tone of the voice for these sentences is generally (but not always) sarcastic, annoyed, irritated, or mocking.
Now that you've got a base understanding of how to use this humble conjunction (it's easy, right?), let’s take a look at some of the most common expressions with ni that will boost your conversational fluency and help you sound more natural.
This expression is implicitly preceded by no tener (to not have). What this means is that saying no tengo ni idea (I have no idea) and ni idea (no idea) expresses basically the same thing when used as a response. It is due to this implicit no tener that we use ni instead of no with idea.
The implied negation before this expression is no decir (to not say). It's generally used in imperative form.
This is a very strong way to refuse to do something.
There are many equivalent expressions such as: ni de chiste/ni en broma, ni en sueños, ni de vaina, ni muerto/a.
Also, the verbs pensar and soñar can be used with ni to form the following negative imperative expression: ni pensarlo, ni soñarlo.
This expresses resignation before a negative or inconvenient situation.
This expression is used to emphasize and reaffirm a previous statement.
One of our personal favorites! It’s used to strongly express disagreement. We don’t know exactly where this weird expression came from, but it’s definitely very common. Please, don’t use it in formal contexts.
We can also replace ocho cuartos with the noun, adjective, adverb or verb included in the sentence we disagree with. E.g.:
This expression refuses two possibilities in a given situation.
Another one of our favorites! Use it when you want to describe an action made without thinking or hesitation.
This expression emphasizes a previous negation, like "at all" or "whatsoever" in English.