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Negation in German – Difference Between Nein, Nicht and Kein

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Nein, nicht, or kein? If you have been wondering how to use negation in German, you’ve come to the right place.

The words nein, nicht and kein seem similar at first, but you’ll soon understand that they are used in different situations.

Buckle up for a solid grammar lesson in which we’ll review how to form negative sentences in German. We’ll show you how to politely decline, refuse a request and negate a sentence.

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Nein vs Nicht vs Kein at a Glance

German Negative Word

Description

Nein

Means no. Used to answer a question.

Nicht

Negates verbs, adjectives, and nouns with an indefinite article.

Kein

Negates nouns.

When to Use Nein

Negation in German Nein Nicht Kein

Nein, the simplest form of “no” in German, is used to answer a yes or no question. It can stand alone or be followed up by a sentence.

German

  • Hast du Hunger?
  • Nein

English

  • Are you hungry?
  • No

When nein is followed up by a sentence, you make a sort of double negation using nicht. See the example below:

German

  • Regnet es?
  • Nein, es regnet nicht.

English

  • Is it raining?
  • No, it is not raining.

When to Use Nicht 

You might have caught a glimpse of nicht, which also means no, in one of the previous examples. Nicht is used to negate a verb (an action), an adjective or an adverb. Similar to “isn’t” and “doesn’t” it gives you a negative sentence.

When used as a statement, the word nicht is found right after the verb. Similar to the way you would use the word “not” in English, when negating an adjective or an adverb, nicht is usually placed before the word that you want to negate.

German

English

Noun

Ich gehe nicht in den Park.

I don’t go to the park.

Adjective

Das Haus ist nicht gross.

The house isn’t big.

Adverb

Der Junge rennt nicht schnell.

The boy doesn’t run fast.

When you form a question the order of the sentence inverts and the nicht stands before the verb.

German

  • Hast du nicht angerufen?

English

  • Didn’t you call?

When to Use Kein/keine

Kein/Keine, the last of the German negation words on this list. It can be translated to “any” or “no” in English. Kein/Keine is used when negating a noun.

According to the gender of the noun in question you use kein with a male or neutral noun and keine with a female noun or any noun in plural.

Kein/keine is generally placed before the noun.

German

  1. Ich habe keine Lampe.
  2. Wir fahren kein Auto.
  3. Da ist kein Stuhl.
  4. Sie möchten keine Ferien.

English

  1. I don’t have any lamps.
  2. We don’t drive a car.
  3. There is no chair.
  4. They don’t want any vacation.

Conclusion

To form a negative sentence in German keep in mind to use nein to answer a question, nicht to negate a verb, adjective or adverb, and kein/keine to negate a noun.

While these words may seem confusing at worst you’ll soon develop an intuition about what sounds right and you’ll be effortlessly juggling nein, nicht and kein in no time. 

Just remember, people learning English also have to contend with “no”, “not”, “don’t”, “doesn’t”, and more variants (for different tenses) in English. Turns out it’s literally hard to say “no”.

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