Niente, nulla e nessuno

Nothing (nothing) and nobody

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If in English the double negatives are forbidden (There isn’t nobody, I didn’t do nothing), in Italian the double negatives are completely fine1You have already familiar with the double negative phrase non … mai (never): Non ho mai bevuto il vino (I have never drunk wine).. These constructions are particularly common, as you probably have noticed, with negative words such as nessuno, nessuna, niente e nulla. In fact, these words, that already are negations, can be found with the negative non: Non c’è nessuno (There is nobody), Io non ho fatto niente (I didn’t do anything).

Niente in exclamatory expressions
The word niente (and its equivalent nulla) is commonly used in exclamatory sentences. The meaning of these expressions is not always immediately understandable for an English speaker. For this reason, it is better to indicate them below. For practice on their pronunciation, use Quizlet.
Note: With the exception of the last two expressions (Niente affatto! and Niente scuse!), the word nulla can always replace niente.
GRAMMAR

Nessuno and Nessuna
Nessuno is not only equivalent to a) the negative nobody, no one but also to b) anybody when it used with a negative verb (non + verb). Note the difference:

  • a) Nessuno è perfetto (Nobody is perfect),
  • b) Non vedo nessuno (I don’t see anybody)

As you can see from the example b) above nessuno requires the negative non when they follow the verb even if it is itself negative. In contrast, a) if it comes before the verb, it doesn’t use non. Whatever position it occupies in the sentence, the meaning stays the same. For example, the sentence Non mi ha chiamato nessuno is perfectly equivalent to Nessuno mi ha chiamato (Nobody called me), and the sentence Il calcio non piace a nessuno di noi is perfectly equivalent to A nessuno di noi piace il calcio (None of us like soccer)

The words nessuno and its feminine nessuna can only be used in a singular form. They can function as pronouns nobody and anybody, as seen before:

  • Nessuno dice la verità (Nobody tells the truth) [pronoun]
  • Non voglio parlare con nessuno (I don’t want to talk to anyone) [pronoun]

or as adjectives meaning no …, and any when followed by a noun. In this case, they follow the same patterns of the indefinite article uno (see Unità 2.1). So nessuno is used where uno would be used (nessuno [uno] studente), nessun is used where un would be used (nessun [un] dottore), nessun’ where un’ would be used (nessun’ [un’] amica), and So nessuna is used where una would be used (nessuna [una] ragazza).

  • Nessuno studente e nessun professore è venuto a scuola oggi (No student and no professor came to school today2 Keep in mind that nessuno and nessuna can only be used in the singular form. This means that No students and no professors came to school today would be translated in the same way: Nessuno studente e nessun professore è venuto a scuola oggi.) [adjective]
  • Oggi non vedo nessun cane nel parco (Today I don’t see any dogs in the park) [adjective]

Nessuno and nessuna are often combined with c’èNon c’è nessuno come mia mamma  (There is no one like my mom) Non c’è nessuna alternativa (There is no alternative).

Niente and Nulla
Niente and its identical nulla are common negative Italian words. They are not only equivalent to a) the negative nothing, but also to b)  anything when they are used with a negative verb (non + verb). Note the difference:

  • a) Niente/Nulla è impossibile (Nothing is impossible)
  • b) Non ho nulla/niente (I don’t have anything)

As you can see from the example b) above niente and nulla require the negative non when they follow the verb even if they are themselves negative. In contrast, a) if they come before the verb, they do not use non. Whatever position they occupy in the sentence, the meaning stays the same. For example, the sentence Non mi piace niente/nulla is perfectly equivalent to Niente/Nulla mi piace (I don’t like anything).

The words niente and nulla (both nothing and anything) are invariable and can refer only to things:

  • Non ho detto niente/nulla (I did not say anything).

In Italian, unlike in English, when they combine with an adjective (always singular and masculine), it is necessary to insert the preposition di in between: niente/nulla di buono (nothing good), niente/nulla di bello (nothing beautiful), niente di serio (nothing serious), etc.

Niente and Nulla are often used in the expressions Non c’è niente/nulla che…(There is nothing that…?), Non c’è niente/nulla da… (There is nothing to …).

Tasks
  • Repeat the exclamatory expressions and use Speech to Text to check your pronunciation.
  • Write 10 sentences using nessuno: 5 using “nessuno” in front of a verb, and the other 5 using it after a verb. The check if there are mistakes in your text using Spell and Grammar Checker.
  • Work with another student. Take turns asking and answering question C’è niente che posso fare per te? Then check if there are mistakes in your spoken Italian using Speech to Text.
Practice

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