Negation in German

Last Updated on March 27, 2023

What is the difference between kein and nicht? Are nicht and nein the same thing? And how else can negation be expressed in German? Let’s talk about negation in German.

Over the years, my answer “nein” has often been followed up with a nicht? , so I already managed to completely get confused when what is used. Let’s start by answer on the questions.

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Negation in German as answer to the questions

Negation in German in response to the questions is expressed in two words. The choice depends on whether there is a negation in the question itself.

If the question is normal, without negation, then the negative answer will be Nein.

Kauftst du heute ein? – Nein, ich mache das am Samstag.

If the question is negative, then the word Nein will be a positive answer!

Bist du nicht müde? – Nein. (Ich bin nicht müde) – I agree: yes, I’m not tired

Bist du nicht müde? – Doch. (Ich bin müde) – I object: no, I’m tired

Negation in German

Negation of nouns without prepositions. Difference between kein and nicht

The negation of nouns is also possible with two words. In this case, it depends on whether there is a definite article, and on the meaning.

With a definite article, negation with the word nicht is possible and it will refer to this particular object.

If there is no definite article, then the negation is used with the word kein. It means “none”, “not at all”.

We look at how the word kein changes in the topic of articles.
Basic German with tables. 2. Articles in German

Ich kaufe keine Jacken. (I don’t buy any jackets, the climate is warm here)

Ich kaufe die Jacke nicht (I won’t buy this particular jacket.)

Ich habe keinen Hunger (noun without article)

Das ist kein Wolf (not a specific wolf and none at all, it’s a cat)

kein Wort mehr!

Ich habe kein Geld

Negation with nicht

Everything else we negate with nicht:

this could be the whole sentence
noun with preposition

Nicht is placed at the end of a sentence if the entire sentence is negated. Naturally, if some part of the verb comes there, then nicht has to give this place to it.

If we negate part of the sentence, then nicht is placed before this part. In this case, there may be two options with different meanings.

Er fährt nach Berlin nicht. (and in general he has a sick leave, he stays at home)
Er fährt nicht nach Berlin. (he is not going to Berlin, but to Belgium)

das geht nicht!

du sollst nicht lügen!

das kann ich nicht sagen

ich meine dich nicht
ich meine nicht dich

das Konzert findet heute nicht statt

Ich gehe nicht ins Kino (aber ins Theater)

das Wetter ist nicht schön

»Kann ich kommen?« »Noch nicht!« – part of the sentence is missing here: Du kannst noch nicht kommen.

es kann nicht lange dauern

er ist nicht unzufrieden

Difference between nicht and nichts and other negative adverbs

Nichts means “nothing” and is opposed to “some” or “all”

ich tue ihm nichts

sie weiß nichts

er hat nichts gegessen

es gab nichts Neues

das macht nichts!

Besides nichts are also used:

nie, niemals
nirgendwohin, nirgendwo

Other types of negation

In addition to those described, there are two more two-component methods of negation:

nicht nur … sondern auch (not only, but) – this is actually an enumeration, not a negation

weder … noch (neither … nor)

Ich spreche weder Deutsch, noch Englisch

Ich spreche nicht nur Deutsch, sonder auch Englisch

Read about ways to link parts of sentences here:
Conjunctions in sentences. Different word order
Conjunctions in sentences. Different word order. 2

At a level closer to B2, one should also not forget about the stylistic variants of negation, which are expressed by negative suffixes and prefixes (the main ones are –los, un-) and prepositions außer, ohne

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