Positives and negatives in Spanish can be challenging for English speakers to master because of a conceptual difference regarding double and triple negatives. While in English it is poor grammar to use a double negative, in Spanish to communicate the absence of something, or a negative concept, the speaker must use only the negative words and thus double, triple, and quadruple negatives are not only possible, but often mandatory.
Complicating the concept further, on the negative side one hardly ever uses a plural; in Spanish the thinking is if I don’t have any, how could that be plural? Thus, you may write a grammatically correct Spanish sentence that directly translated into English would be “I don’t have no friend.” English speakers often find these details of positives and negatives to be challenging.
To start, have students learn the terms as vocabulary. Then, slowly introduce the nuances, leaving time to practice at each step. The following storyboard activities are designed to incorporate this scaffolding for Spanish negation in these free Spanish lessons.
By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!
In the chart below are what are termed as positive and negative words in Spanish. They are used to communicate absence (negative) or presence (positive) of something — whether a person, a thing, or a quantity.
In the initial learning stages of positive and negative in Spanish, students must master the above terms as they would a new vocabulary list. It is helpful to think of the terms in categories and as opposites. For example, también and tampoco are opposites, and they belong to the same category as they are both used to express agreement. También is used to agree with an affirmative statement, while tampoco is used to agree with a negative statement.
Have students use a grid layout to illustrate the meaning of each positive and negative word, organizing the terms into categories and as opposites. In the first column, have students place the category label, for example “person,” “thing,” and “quantity.” In the cells students will illustrate the meaning of each vocabulary word and include vocabulary labels. These illustrations will also be organized into a “positive” column and a “negative” column. With a more advanced class or students, have them also include a sentence in the description box below each cell that uses the vocabulary term and describes or matches the cell illustration. For a more beginner class, students can put the English translation in the description box instead.
Negative words in Spanish, listed in the previous storyboard activity, are often used in double, and sometimes triple and quadruple, negative sentence structures. While in the English language, it is incorrect to say “I don’t never go to the movies,” in the Spanish language this is grammatically correct. More specifically, if the negative word is before the verb, only the one negative word is used; however, if the negative word comes after the verb, there will also be a “no” before the verb. This no is the equivalent of “not” in English. In Spanish, there may even be more than two negative words in the sentence, for example, “Mi hermano no va nunca al cine tampoco.”
This double negative concept can take some getting used to, especially as students work from English to Spanish. For practice, have students write original sentences that include negative words. Then, using the grid layout, students will place their English sentences in the first column, underlining the negative word(s). In the second column, have students write their sentence in Spanish with the negative word before the verb. In the third column, students will attempt the double negative, placing the negative word after the verb with a “no” before the verb. In each cell, have students illustrate their sentence. For each row, students should focus on using a different negative word. For further advancement, students can dedicate a row to a sentence with three or more negative words.
Underneath the larger umbrella of positive and negative words, one of the categories, describing quantity, is a little more complicated than the others. The added complexity of the category merits its own focus and targeted practice. In this storyboard activity, students will attend to the nuances of using alguno and ninguno within the structure of their sentences. Before students begin this storyboard, the concept of only having a singular form on the negative side should be reviewed, as well as the difference in application between ninguno and ningún (and their positive counterparts).
Have students use the grid layout to create two columns — one for positives and one for negatives — and at least two rows. Each row in the storyboard should be dedicated to a different form of the words alguno and ninguno. Depending on how closely you want to manage student practice, you could have one row for feminine and the other for masculine, or you could require as many as five rows — a feminine and plural, a feminine and singular, a masculine and plural, a masculine and singular with the noun, and lastly, a masculine and singular without the noun. The first (or title) column should include the student’s original sentences in English, while subsequent cells will have an illustration and the original sentences in Spanish. All forms of alguno and ninguno and their English versions should be underlined.
Now that students have had a chance to work on the isolated aspects of using positive and negative words, it’s time for them to try putting it all together. It’s common for students to struggle with this concept more once it’s time to use it in a fluid narrative. Thus, the narrative is a good opportunity to correct misunderstandings and cement mastery.
Using the traditional storyboard layout, have students write a story using all of the positive and negative words, including the many forms of alguno and ninguno. A good premise for the narrative is an anxiety dream, for example where the main character prepares diligently for a speech, but in the moment forgets everything or walks into the cafeteria on their first day at a new school and no one is there. Students will illustrate the narrative in the cells, and can insert text either in the description boxes or text bubbles. For reinforcement purposes, students could also be required to provide the English version of the story, title blocks with the targeted word and its translation above the narrative, or color coding for positives and negatives.