Negation

3 Ways to Negate in German

They are:

  • Nein:   „Willst du ein Eis?“ ; „Nein!“
  • Kein:   „Ich möchte kein Eis!“
  • Nicht:   „Ich mag Eis nicht!“

Using "nein"

"Nein" is the negative answer to a question. It is only used to answer questions.

Examples:

  • „Hast du deine Hausaufgaben gemacht?“ - „Nein!“
  • „Bist du fertig?“ - „Nein, Mami!“

Using "kein"

"Kein" can only negate nouns. It is used for nouns without articles and nouns with indefinite articles.

"Kein" has to be declined (the ending is changed based on the situation in the sentence).

Examples:

  • „Hast du Durst?“ – „Ich habe keinen Durst.“
  • „Das ist ein Hund.“ – „Das ist kein Hund.“

Using "nicht"

We can use "nicht" to negate everything else: verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, proper names, nouns with definite articles / possessive determiners, and complete sentences.

Negating verbs / full sentences:

If the conjugated verb is negated, the whole sentence is negated.

  • „Ich kaufe das Auto nicht.“

Word Order: When there is only one verb and it is in position 2, "nicht" goes at the end of the sentence.

  • „Ich möchte das Auto nicht kaufen.“
  • „Ich habe das Auto nicht gekauft.“

Word Order: When there is a helping verb or modal verb, "nicht" goes before the main verb.

Negating adverbs:

  • „Ich wandere gern.“ – „Ich wandere nicht gern.“

Wort Order: "Nicht" goes in front of the adverb.

Negating adjectives:

  • „Ich bin schlau.“ – „Ich bin nicht schlau.“

Wort Order: "Nicht" goes in front of the adjective.

Negating pronouns:

  • „Ich habe nicht dich angerufen, sondern Uwe.“

Word Order: "Nicht" goes in front of the pronoun.

Negating proper names:

  • „Das ist nicht Susi. Das ist Anne!“

Word Order: "Nicht" goes in front of the proper name

Negating prepositional phrases:

  • „Ich komme nicht zu deiner Party.“
  • „Ich bin nicht bei Frank.“
  • „Er kommt nicht vor 20 Uhr nach Hause.“

Wort Order: "Nicht" goes in front of the preposition.

Negating nouns (with definite articles / possessive determiners):

  • „Er hat nicht seinen Schlüssel, sondern ihren.“
  • „Er hat nicht das Auto, sondern das Fahrrad bezahlt.“

This isn't used very often (usually only with "sondern").

Word Order: "Nicht" goes in front of the article / possessive determiner.

Words with a Negative Opposite

Some words have a negative opposite and use that for negation:

* More info about this in the lesson on indefinite pronouns.

Summary

  • Questions are answered negatively with "nein."
  • Nouns without articles or with an indefinite article are negated with "kein."
  • Everything else is negated with "nicht."
  • "Nicht" goes in front of what's being negated, unless you're negating an entire sentence that has one verb (then it goes at the end of the sentence).
  • Some words have negative opposites.

Related Topics:

A comprehensive explanation of  "kein": the negative article.

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