The Negative in Italian
In English the purpose of a negative statement is to express a negation, which is to say that something is incorrect or untrue. In order to create a negative sentence a negative adverb is included before the first auxiliary verb in a positive sentence, if there is no auxiliary verb then one needs to be added in order to create a proper negative statement. An example of a Present Simple positive sentence without an auxiliary verb is “I see,” to make this into a negative sentence one would add “do not” or “don’t” (ie. “I do not see.”) Negative sentences in English are created by adding negative adverbs like “do not” or “don’t,” as seen above, as well as no, doesn’t, didn’t, and not, or for Past Progressive sentences we add words like hasn’t and wasn’t.
One creates negative sentences in Italian by placing “non” before the infinitive of the verb. Other words used to create negative statements include neppure, nemmeno, and neanche (neither, nor). Some examples of this can be seen as follows:
No smoking! = Non fumare!
E’ meglio non andare = It’s better not to go
Non sono mai andato a Parigi = I’ve never been to Paris
Neanche io = Neither have I
Io non posso andarci, lui neanche = I can’t go and neither can he
Non l’ho visto, e neanche voglio vederlo = I haven’t seen him and I don’t want to
Nè l’uno nè l’altro = Neither (Not one or the other)
Ex. “Né l’uno né l’altro voleva rispondere” = “Neither of them wanted to answer”
“Non conosco nè l’uno nè l’altro dei fratelli” = “I don’t know either of the brothers”
Translation Guide: Negative Italian Words
Nessuno = nobody (indefinite pronoun)
Niente = nothing (indefinite pronoun)
Nulla = nothing (indefinite pronoun)
Mai = never (adverb)
The Prefix NE- In Italian
Many Italian words used to express the negative are also compounds that start with the prefix NE-. For example:
Ne + uno (one) = nessuno (nobody, no one, none)
Nessun colore è così brillante = No color is as bright
Non c’è nessuna novità = There is no news
Nessuno/a is a compound of UNO, but before a masculine noun it loses the last O (as seen in the example above, “nessun colore”). Other instances where this occurs is “nessun rumore” (“no noise”) and nessun sconto (“no discount”). When the noun begins with Z or S plus a consonant then nessuno (masculine) or nessuna (feminine) is used, depending on whether the consonant is masculine or feminine. For example, the consonant possibilità is feminine so the correct use would be “nessuna possibilità.”
ne + ente = niente (nothing)
Non abbiamo visto niente = We did not see anything
In negative sentences the words nemmeno, neanche, and neppure replace the word “anche.” For example, a positive sentence would be “Anche loro vogliono mangiare” (“Even they would like to eat”), while a negative would be “Neanche loro vogliono mangiare” (“Not even they want to eat.”)
ne + meno (less) = nemmeno (not even, neither)
Nemenno loro vogliono mangiare = Not even they want to eat
ne + anche (also, even) = neanche (not even, neither)
Neanche un bambino lo direbbe = Not even a child would say it
Non ci crederei neanche se lo vedessi = I wouldn’t believe it even if I saw it
ne + pure (also, even) = neppure (not even, neither)
Non bere neppure una goccia = Don’t even drink a drop
Fill in the blanks with the right negative
- 1) Lei non scrive lettere = She ________ write letters.
- 2) Il ragazzo non rubò la radio = The boy ________ steal the radio.
- 3) Neanche un bambino lo direbbe = ________ a child would say it
- 4) Non andrò alla festa; Allora neanche io = I will ________ go to the party; Then ________ shall I.
- 5) Nè l’uno nè l’altro lo sa = ________ of them knows about it
- 6) Se non ci vai tu, non ci andrò neanche io = If you ________ go, then ________ will I.
- 7) Non ci vuole niente a farlo = There is ________ to it.
- not even
- not; neither
- don’t; neither
Translate into Italian
- 1) I don’t drink too much.
- 2) I don’t know those boys.
- 3) They don’t go often to the mountain.
- 4) Lucia doesn’t want to come with me to the movies.
- 5) Carlo doesn’t drive the car.
- Io non bevo troppo.
- Io non conosco quei ragazzi.
- Loro non vanno spesso in montagna.
- Lucia non vuole venire con me al cinema.
- Carlo non vuole guidare la macchina.
For those visiting Italy here is one negative sentence that is sure to come in handy: “Non voglio andare a casa!” Of course, this means “I don’t want to go home!” a constant refrain heard from visitors to Italy’s beautiful shores.
By Elisa Bressan