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Negation in German: How to form negative sentences

Learning a language like German is, of course, first and foremost about developing new skills. Making new experiences and taking on challenges are part of language learning.

In this article, we'll look at negation in German. You'll learn how to form negative sentences, how to properly answer a yes-or-no question, and how to politely decline an offer or invitation... without upsetting anyone.

A negative sentence is a sentence that says something is wrong, negative...

In English, we form these sentences by adding the word "not" after an auxiliary verb (do, have, be, etc.).

Hans ist nicht glücklich. Hans is not happy.

Wir werden morgen nicht in den Park gehen. We will not go to the park tomorrow.

There are three important German negation words. The first, as you may have guessed, is nein, which means "no." However, to form a negating sentence, we use two different words: nicht and kein.

Let's take a look at how to negate sentences in German using these words.

When is "nicht" used?

In German negation "nicht" is used to negate verbs, nouns, adjectives (including possessive adjectives), and adverbs.

Have a look at the following examples:

  • With a VERB: Wir laufen nicht. We are not running.

  • With a NOUN that has a definite article (der, die, or das – “the”): Ich kenne das Buch nicht. I don’t know this book.

  • With a PROPER NOUN: Sie heißt nicht Erna. Her name’s not Erna.

  • With an ADJECTIVE: Ich bin nicht durstig. I am not thirsty.

  • With a POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE: Das ist nicht meine Katze. That’s not my cat.

  • With an ADVERB: Er spielt nicht gut Tennis. He does not play tennis well.

Where to put "nicht"

When using "nicht", there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you place it correctly in relation to other elements.

In a simple sentence, "nicht" is at the end, after the verb.

  • Wir laufen nicht. We are not running.

In everyday life, however, we rarely speak this way, so let's look at how the behavior of "nicht" changes depending on what you're negating.

It usually comes before an adjective or adverb, unless it is a time adverb (e.g., später, früher, gestern, morgen), in which case it does "nicht" come after the adverb.

  • Das Auto ist nicht rot. The car is not red.

  • Sie kann heute nicht schlafen. She can’t sleep today.

We place nicht before prepositions:

  • Er kommt nicht aus Hamburg. He does not come from Hamburg.

When is "kein" used?

Sometimes you need to use "kein" (instead of "nicht") to make a negative sentence. Remember, "kein" can be translated as "not a...", "not...", or "no".

"Kein" must agree with the noun it describes, and it works the same way as the indefinite article forms of "ein", a.

We use "kein" in two ways: You can use it to negate a noun with an indefinite article, or to negate a noun without an article:

  • Ich habe keine Brüder. I have no brothers.

  • Sie haben keine Bücher. They don’t have books. (Literally: They have no books.)

2. How to answer no

There are two different types of questions: open and closed questions. In decision questions, you can usually answer "JA" or "NEIN" without giving any further explanation.

In English, we usually say, "Yes, I do." / "No, I don't."

In German, you can simply say "Ja / Nein", but you can also learn other expressions to make your speech sound more natural. For example, it's common to give an explanation of why you're saying no. Of course, this is true in English as well, and it's more a matter of common sense than grammar or language rules!

To complement your negative responses, you could learn expressions like:

Entschuldigung. (I'm sorry.)

Leider. (Unfortunately!).

Alles klar?

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