If you are of a certain vintage, the word “Ni” might put you in mind of Monty Python and the Knights who say Ni!
But don’t worry, we’re not going to learn about obscure British humour today, as tempting as it might be. Ni
is a curious little word, usually meaning “nor” or “neither”. However, it can also function a little differently depending how it is employed; and at times seemingly functioning like the word "no", but not necessarily for reasons that are clear. So let's see why. Ni meaning “nor” and "neither"
In its most straightforward usage, ni
means “nor” in English. It can also mean “neither” when used twice in close succession. Let’s see some example sentences, and see how they related to ni.
|Spanish ||Meaning |
|“No puedo venir hoy ni mañana” ||I can't come today or tomorrow |
|“No será ni hoy ni mañana.” ||It will be neither today nor tomorrow. |
|“No puedo, ni lo haré” ||I can not, nor will I. |
Notice that in our first example, ni is actually translated as “or” rather than “nor”. This is because double negatives are not usually allowed in English. However, with punctuation, we can force the use of nor: “I can't come today, nor
By contrast, double negatives are
allowed in Spanish, and are especially common when delivering emphasis. This means, at times, ni can also mean “or” and “either” in certain English constructions, that avoid the double negative. As we've already seen above. Ni meaning “not even" “Ni siquiera”
is an adverbial phrase meaning “not even”. As a direct translation it doesn’t make a lot of sense, so we should consider it idiomatically.
Furthermore, in this phrase the word siquiera is usually optional, so it can become just "ni". To understand this better let’s see some examples:
|Spanish ||Meaning |
|“Ni (siquiera) uno” ||Not (even) one |
|“Ni siquiera sé tu nombre” ||I don’t even know your name |
|“No tengo idea” ||I have no idea |
|“No tengo ni (siquiera) idea” ||I have no (not even one) idea |
|“Ni idea” ||No idea |
In the above examples, we can see that when we use ni, the resultant meanings are more emphatic. “No tengo ni idea” translates to “I have no idea whatsever”, so the addition of ni, acts to really emphasis the point.
The use of ni in front of words like idea, have become so idiomatic, that statements like “ni idea” are the standard construction. Thus, “no idea” is not correct Spanish in isolation. Conclusion | En conclusión
As we’ve seen, idiomatically, ni can appear to be an alternative to “no” or “not”. However, in the main it functions as “nor” and sometimes “neither” when we use the two in combination. The fact it can also represent “or” and “either”, is more to do with how English functions in avoiding double negatives.