‘Jamás’ vs ‘Nunca’

Heard both ‘nunca’ and ‘jamás’ while studying Spanish and feel a bit confused?

After all, there’s only one word for ‘never’ in English, right?

Well, in this article I’m going to explain the ins and outs of both these words, so stay tuned for a veritable ‘jamás’ and ‘nunca’ feast (trust me, it won’t disappoint!).

Here’s a sneak peek if you’re feeling impatient –

In short – ‘jamás’ and ‘nunca’ can both be translated to ‘never’ in English. They’re synonyms and can be used interchangeably, but ‘jamás’ sounds a little more final than ‘nunca’ (i.e., that’s the END of the matter, eek!).

Jamás’ vs ‘nunca’

A quick glance at the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) shows that ‘nunca’ and ‘jamás’ are indeed synonyms.

In fact, the first and only definition of ‘jamás’ is none other than a simple ‘nunca’.

So that’s that then, article finished, on to the next!

Not so fast … Spanish speakers do have a preference when using the two. For example, when I say both out loud, one of them feels stronger, more … categorical!

Let me explain –

We use ‘jamás’ when the message / decision is final, irrevocable and there’s no turning back.

We use ‘nunca’ when the message / decision is final, but there’s an oh-so-slim chance that it could potentially be revoked.

There are also various set phrases in which the two are NOT interchangeable!

For example, we DO say ‘nunca más’, but we NEVER say ‘jamás más’.

You can find the most common of these set phrases two sections down (you can thank me later!).

Jamás’ / ‘nunca’ in a sentence

Just remember that there’s no need to worry when using these adverbs as most of the time they’re interchangeable …

… but you’ll obviously sound just that little bit more native if you understand their subtleties!

Let’s look at some examples using both –

El secreto que te acabo* de confesar, nunca lo debes divulgar.

The secret I just told you, you must never divulge.

El secreto que te acabo de* confesar, jamás lo debes divulgar.

The secret I just told you, you must never divulge.

This second sentence sounds just that little bit more final and irrevocable.

¡Nunca voy a salir del país!

I´m never going to leave the country!

¡Jamás voy a salir del país!

I’m never going to leave the country!

Again, the second sentence sounds more final.

*Erika’s note – acabar de + infinitive is a super useful structure which means something along the lines of ‘just + verb’.

Expressions with ‘jamás’ / ‘nunca’

There are quite a few set expressions with both ‘nunca’ and ‘jamás’; they’re usually NOT interchangeable when used as part of a set phrase.

You’ll also see that ‘jamás’ is used in the most final and definitive expressions!

Nunca jamás

This one’s similar to the English phrase ‘never again’; it’s used to make clear that something’s not going to happen EVER again.

Neverland’ the mystical land of eternal childhood in the children’s classic Peter Pan was translated into Spanish as ‘La tierra de Nunca Jamás’.

For example –

Una mamá está contando una historia a su hijo

Mamá – Y nunca se volvieron a ver.

Hijo – ¿Nunca?

Mamá – Nunca jamás.

A mom is telling her son a story

Mom – And they never saw each other again.

Son – Never?

Mom – Never again.

Erick – ¿Quieres volver a probar el chile habanero?

César – ¡Nunca jamás! ¡Primero muerto!

Erick – Do you want to try habanero chili again?

César – Never again! Over my dead body!

Jamás de los jamases

This is a way of emphatically saying that you don’t want to do something again or that you definitely haven’t done something.

For example –

Elsa – ¿Alguna vez has ido a Nueva Zelanda?

María – Jamás de los jamases, pero algún día iré.

Elsa – Have you ever been to New Zealand?

María – Never, but someday I’ll go.

Carlos – ¿Te vas a subir a la montaña rusa?

Juan – ¡Jamás de los jamases! ¡Ni a punta de pistola!

Carlos – Are you going on the roller coaster?

Juan – Absolutely not! Not even at gunpoint!

Nunca digas nunca

This one’s the Spanish equivalent of the English phrase ‘never say never’.

Notice that the implication is that ‘never’ isn’t actually all that final, which is maybe why the more definitive ‘jamás’ is nowhere to be seen …

For example –

Isabella – Yo no quiero tener hijos jamás.

Carmen – ¡Nunca digas nunca! Cuando te cases y te establezcas cambiarás de opinión.

Isabella – I never want to have children.

Carmen – Never say never! When you get married and settle down, you’ll change your mind.

Por siempre jamás

This one’s very different from the other expressions on this list as it actually means ‘forever’.

For example –

Te amaré por siempre* jamás.

I will love you forever.

Y vivieron felices por siempre* jamás.

And they lived happily ever after.

It’s as if ‘jamás’ were being used to emphasize the finality of the two statements …

*Erika’s note – if you’d like to know the difference (it’s VERY subtle) between por siempre’ and ‘para siempre, we’ve actually written an entire article on the subject!

Final thoughts

‘Nunca’ and ‘jamás’ are synonyms.

The difference between them depends entirely on the tone of voice used and whether the speaker wants to make clear that never is, indeed, never.

Whichever word you choose, your message will be clear, so don’t be afraid to use either!

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our article on intentar‘ and ‘tratar’ in which we demystify all the nuances of these two words.

¡Nos vemos en la tierra de Nunca Jamás!

And some cheeky vids ...

What ya looking for?