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I was reading the sentences:

Yo nunca hago ejercicio.

Los sábados no me levanto nunca pronto.

and according to what my teacher said to me, if you use "nunca" after a verb, you need to add a "no" before the verb too.

But this left me slightly confused. If "no" is used just as in English to negate the following sentence, in the sentence above:

Los sábados no me levanto nunca pronto.

which translates to

On Saturdays, I never get up early.

are we not actually negating the idea that on Saturdays, I never get up early? i.e.

On Saturday, I never not get up early

  • 3
    Welcome to the site, and nice question! Partial argument: Unlike English, double negation is used in Spanish for emphasis, somehow intensifying the negation, not nullifying it. – Rafael Jun 29 '19 at 20:41
  • @walen isn't that "no" just an affirmative "no" though i.e. "Vamos a la fiesta esta noche ¿no?" so it doesn't function in that negation way? – David Smith Jul 3 '19 at 20:58
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Spanish has a feature called negative concord(ance). While you're probably used to making sure that things agree in gender, number, person, tense, etc., another thing you have to do is make sure that things agree in polarity (affirmative/negative).

Thankfully, there are only a few pairs of words that require this type of agreement. Siempre/nunca is one of them. If your sentence is negative, then you may not use siempre, algo, algún/o/a/os/as, alguien, (o…)o, etc. You must use the negative version of them:

┏━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━┓
┃ AFFIRMATIVE    NEGATIVE  ┃
┠──────────────────────────┨
┃   sí            no       ┃
┃   siempre       nunca    ┃
┃   algo          nada     ┃
┃   algún…        ningún…  ┃
┃   alguien       nadie    ┃
┃   también       tampoco  ┃
┃  (o …) o       (ni …) ni ┃
┗━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━┛

English does not have negative concordance. A single negative element is sufficient to negate the action, thus I don't see anyone and I see no one are equivalent. In Spanish, the negative concord means that you must have both/all elements negated, so you get No veo a nadie.

If any negative element comes before the verb then the verb is implicitly made negative, and doesn't require additional negating.

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  • "If your sentence is negative, then you may not use siempre, algo, algún/o/a/os/as, alguien, (o…)o, etc." But note that "Los sábados no me levanto siempre pronto" is valid (I don't always get up early on Saturdays). I don't know my grammar that well, but it seems to me that, in the table above, the pair "siempre - nunca" could be replaced with "a veces - nunca", which would make it more coherent with the other pairs ("algo - nada" instead of "todo - nada", etc.) – abl Jun 30 '19 at 13:10
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This is a supplement to the complete, technical answer by @guifa.

First, let me replace pronto with temprano. I checked the dictionary and found that pronto can be used to mean "early," but in the regional variant of Spanish that I know, it doesn't mean that at all -- it means "soon." Also, I'll adjust the word order to a more comfortable one. It feels awkward to me to have two adverbs right next to each other -- so I'll move one to a different part of the sentence. Finally, I'll use a singular sábado because that's the idiomatic way to talk about Saturdays in general in Spanish. The result:

El sábado no me levanto temprano nunca.

This would be equivalent to

Saturdays I don't get up early, ever.

You could think of no ... nunca as

... never ever.

Your teacher is right. If the nunca appears at the tail end of the sentence, it needs to have the basic negation word, no, near the beginning, because the nunca at the tail end is only there for emphasis -- rather like the "ever" in "never ever."

Now I'll make up a dialogue where the extra emphasis would make sense.

A: Ay, Mamá, ¿por qué sacaste cita con la doctora para el sábado a las 8? Jeez, Mama, why did you make the doctor's appointment for Saturday at 8 am?

B: Así podremos ir al súpermercado a buena hora. Si no, habrá muchísima gente en el súper y se acaban las cosas, como el pan. That way we'll be able to get to the grocery store at a good time. Otherwise, it will be really crowded and they'll be out of things, like bread.

A: Pero ya sabes, el sábado no me levanto temprano nunca. El sábado es mi único día de descanso. But you know that I never get up early on Saturday, *ever*. Saturday is my one day off work.

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