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When Nada (nothing) is Todo (everything)

In one of our newest videos we hear a chef using the Spanish expression ante todo

Yo espero que el estudiante que pretenda ser un chef profesional, ante todo que sea un buen cocinero.
I hope that the student who is trying to be a professional chef, first and foremost is a good cook.
Captions 36 37, Misión Chef - 2 - Pruebas - Part 2 

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A close translation of ante todo is "above all." As you can see in the previous example, this expression is also commonly translated as "first and foremost." Similar expressions in Spanish are: en primer lugar (in the first place), ante todas las cosas (above all things), primero (first), primeramente (primarily), principalmente (mainly), etc. Let's see another example:

ante todo sos una chica que tenés derecho a soñar con todo lo que quieras.
And above all you're a girl who has the right to dream about everything you want.
Caption 8, Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentro - Part 7

More interesting than these phrases are other Spanish expressions that are also synonyms of ante todo, and yet make use of the word nada (nothing, anything), which means exactly the opposite of todo (everything). These expressions are primero que nada and antes que nada or antes de nada, and they can be translated as "first and foremost." You can use them to replace ante todo in the previous examples:

Yo espero que el estudiante que pretenda ser un chef profesional, primero que nada que sea un buen cocinero.
I hope that the student who is trying to be a professional chef, first and foremost is a good cook.

antes que nada sos una chica que tenés derecho a soñar con todo lo que quieras.
And above all you're a girl who has the right to dream about everything you want.

Just be careful, because these expressions containing the word nada (nothing) can also have a different use, which is not really equivalent to ante todo (above all)Depending on the context, both phrases antes de nada (or antes que nada) and primero que nada are adverbs of time that can mean "before anything":

Pero antes, antes de nada, [vamos a] conocer nuestro destino de hoy.
But before, before anything, [let's] get to know our destination for today.
Caption 15, Cómetelo - Crema de brócoli - Part 1

Primero que nada also means "before anything," although a more literal translation is "first of anything else," which is a rather uncommon phrase in English. We used that literal translation in the following example:

Entonces este... primero que nada queremos saber [...] de dónde eres.
Well then... first of anything [else] we want to know [...] where you're from.
Caption 4-5, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 1

Spanish also uses primero que todo (first of all) and antes de todo (before all), as equivalents of primero que nada (first of anything else / before anything else) and antes de nada (before anything else). Of course, in English you can alternate between the use of "before all" and "before anything," as well. The interesting thing here is that Spanish makes use of the antonyms todo (everything) and nada (nothing, anything) for phrases that are equivalent.

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And now you know why in Spanish sometimes nada (nothing, anything) is todo (everything). Thank you for reading! 

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