Because double negatives are common in Spanish, the word nada, which has a dictionary definition of "nothing," can often be translated as "anything."
When it indeed means "nothing," usually as the subject of a sentence, the use of nada is straightforward for English speakers:
- Nada es mejor que la maternidad. Nothing is better than motherhood.
- Nada es más importante en este momento de nuestra historia. Nothing is more important at this time in our history.
- Nada es lo que parece. Nothing is what it seems.
- No quiero participar en la discusión sobre nada importante. I don't want to participate in the discussion about nothing important.
However, when nada is the object of a verb, it is normal for the verb itself to be negated. Therefore, when translating such sentences, you usually have to translate nada as "anything" or something similar, or use the verb in a positive form. In the following examples, either translation is acceptable:
- No hay nada más. There isn't anything more. There is nothing more.
- Este congreso no sirve para nada. This congress isn't worth anything. The Congress is worthless.
- El manifestante habló dos horas sin decir nada. The protester spoke for two hours without saying anything. The protester spoke for two hours and said nothing.
- No hay nada más grande que proteger los niños. There is nothing more important than protecting children. There isn't anything more important than protecting children.
- No me gusta nada. I don't like anything. I like nothing. (Technically, nada is the subject of this sentence. But the double-negative rule still applies.)
Sometimes you'll hear nada used as an adverb, where (after taking the double negative into account) it is usually used for emphasis and thus can mean "not at all":
- Mi hermano no estudia nada y no ayuda nada en casa. My brother doesn't study at all nor help out at home at all.
- Si tengo paraguas no corro nada. If I have an umbrella I don't run at all.
Nada meaning "nothing" shouldn't be confused with nada, the third-person present indicative form of nadar, to swim: Nada todas las mañanas en la piscina. She swims every morning in the swimming pool.