In short – ‘nel’ is a super common Mexican colloquialism very similar in meaning to the English ‘nah’ or ‘nope’. Being colloquial Spanish, it´s not appropriate in most situations (i.e., if you´re not amongst close friends).
That being said, in informal conversations in Mexico City and its environs, you’re likely to hear people use ‘nel’ instead of ‘no’ a fair bit.
Let´s look at some examples –
Antonio – Oye, ¿viste mi cartera, amigo?
Ramón – Nel carnal, aquí no dejaste nada.
Antonio – Hey, have you seen my wallet?
Ramón – Nah bro, you didn’t leave anything here.
Raúl – ¿Todavía está abierto el metro?
Aaron – ¡Nel!
Raúl – Is the metro still open?
Aaron – Nah!
Rosa – Íbamos a comer con mis papás, ¿no?
Oscar – Nel, yo voy a ver el futbol con mis amigos.
Rose – We were supposed to eat with my parents, right?
Oscar – Nah, I’m gonna watch the soccer with my friends.
Alfredo – Pensaron que íbamos a perder, pero nel.
Andrés – Sí, la neta sí se la rifaron.
Alfredo – They thought we were going to lose, but no.
Andrew – Yeah, you guys honestly rocked!
*Erika´s note – ‘se la rifaron’ basically means ‘you rocked’ or ‘you guys nailed it’. Be sure to check out our article on all the different slang expressions derived from the verb ‘rifar’ if you wanna find out more!
‘Nel’ is said like ‘nehl’. Easy peasy, right?
/ nehl /
Similar expressions to ‘nel’
‘No cake’ is the literally meaning of this fun phrase.
And why (on earth!) do Mexicans say ‘nel pastel’?
Well, it´s just because the two words (‘nel’ and ‘pastel’) rhyme and sound pretty funny together!
If you whip it out with friends and family, it’s certain to make you sound more local.
Zara – ¿Ya compraste tus boletos para el concierto?
Sergio – ¡Nel pastel! Mi novia me los va a disparar.
Zara – Did you buy the concert tickets?
Sergio – Nah, my girlfriend will buy them for me!
Juan – Oye, ¿no viste mis lentes?
Enrique – Los busqué en el coche pero, ¡nel pastel!
Juan – Hey, did you see my glasses?
Enrique – I looked for them in the car but had no luck!
Sonia – ¿Te devolvieron el dinero?
Gabriel – ¡Nel pastel! Ya no me vuelve a pasar.
Sonia – Did you get your money back?
Gabriel – Nah! I won’t let it happen again.
This one´s actually an example of a type of play on words in which you use a word – unassociated in meaning – with similar phonetics or sounds as an alternative to the original.
So, if someone directs an emphatic ‘nelson’ at you, don’t go out of your way to remind them of your actual name … they’re just giving you a negative answer.
En un puesto de tacos de la Ciudad de México
Taquera – ¿Le pongo salsa a sus tacos?
Cliente – Nelson. Solo cebolla, porfa.
At a taco stand in Mexico City
Woman selling tacos – Do you want hot sauce on your tacos?
Customer – Nope. Just onion, please.
Hopefully this article has once and for all cleared up any lingering doubts you had about ‘nel’.
Next time you want to say “no” to a friend, whip it out and observe their reaction. They’re sure to be impressed by your knowledge of Mexican Spanish!
Just remember that it´s a colloquialism and the better option in more formal situations is always a simple ‘no’.
Hungry for more fun Mexican slang?
I suggest you head next to our article on the meaning of ‘mi rey’ (spoiler: it doesn´t just mean ‘my king’!). ¡Hasta pronto!