Your Cart

Negation in German Sentences with “Nicht” and “Kein”

German handles negation in subtle ways that differ from English. Learning how to properly form negative statements using “nicht” and “kein” is essential to mastering the language. This guide will explain the principles of negation in German grammar, with abundant examples covering:

  • The role of “nicht”
  • Placing “nicht” correctly
  • Negating verbs with “nicht”
  • Using “nicht” with imperatives
  • The role of “kein”
  • How to use “kein” correctly
  • Negating subjects/objects with “kein”
  • Understanding double negatives

Read on to learn how to expertly construct German negatives using these important words.

The Role of “Nicht”

The word “nicht” means “not” in English. It is used to negate or contradict words in a German sentence.

For example:

  • Ich bin müde. (I am tired).
  • Ich bin nicht müde. (I am not tired).

“Nicht” flips the sentence meaning to express the opposite.

Placing “Nicht” Correctly

The position of “nicht” is important for proper negation. General rules:

  • Main verbs: Place “nicht” after the conjugated verb.
  • Auxiliary verbs: Place “nicht” after the conjugated auxiliary.
  • Other words: Place “nicht” before the word being negated.


  • Ich verstehe den Text nicht.
  • Er hat die Aufgabe nicht gemacht.
  • Das ist nicht richtig.

Memorize these word order rules so you don’t misplace “nicht”.

Negating Verbs with “Nicht”

To negate an action, place “nicht” after the conjugated verb:

  • Ich lerne Deutsch. → Ich lerne Deutsch nicht. (I do not learn German).
  • Sie singt im Chor. → Sie singt nicht im Chor. (She does not sing in the choir).
  • Er geht ins Kino. → Er geht nicht ins Kino. (He does not go to the movies).

This reverses the meaning to show that the action does NOT take place.

Negating Auxiliary Verbs with “Nicht”

With compound tense verbs using auxiliaries like “haben” and “sein”, place “nicht” after the conjugated auxiliary:

  • Ich habe einen Hund. → Ich habe keinen Hund. (I do not have a dog).
  • Das Buch ist spannend. → Das Buch ist nicht spannend. (The book is not exciting).

The action itself (main verb) is not negated, just the auxiliary verb.

Negating Imperatives with “Nicht”

For negated commands, put “nicht” AFTER the imperative verb:

  • Mach deine Hausaufgaben! → Mach deine Hausaufgaben nicht! (Don’t do your homework!)
  • Sei traurig! → Sei nicht traurig! (Don’t be sad!)
  • Gehen wir jetzt. → Gehen wir jetzt nicht. (Let’s not go now).

This structure stresses the command against doing the action.

The Role of “Kein”

While “nicht” targets verbs, “kein” targets nouns. “Kein” means “no” or “not any”. It negates the existence or quantity of nouns.

For example:

  • Ich habe einen Stift. → Ich habe keinen Stift. (I do not have a pen).
  • Sie kauft drei Äpfel. → Sie kauft keine Äpfel. (She does not buy any apples).

“Kein” denies specifically that the noun exists or is present.

Using “Kein” Correctly

  • “Kein” takes the ENDING of the negated noun. (Ein Stift - keinEN Stift).
  • It also declines like the indefinite article (“ein”).
  • If the noun has no article, “kein” functions as the article.

Some examples:

Masculine noun: Der Stift → Kein Stift

Feminine noun: Die Blume → Keine Blume

Plural noun: Die Bücher → Keine Bücher

No article: Äpfel → Keine Äpfel

Make sure to use “kein” correctly in terms of case, gender, and plurality.

Negating Subjects and Objects with “Kein”

While “nicht” negates verbs, “kein” negates noun subjects and objects. Common patterns:

  • Kein + NOUN (subject):

Kein Student versteht das. (No student understands that).

  • SUBJECT + kein + NOUN (object):

Der Lehrer kennt keinen Schüler. (The teacher knows no student).

  • SUBJECT + VERB + kein + NOUN:

Ich habe kein Geld. (I have no money).

Use “kein” to succinctly negate nouns throughout a sentence.

Understanding Double Negatives

German grammar allows double negatives intensify the negation:

  • Ich habe kein Geld nicht. (I do NOT have ANY money).
  • Niemand versteht das nicht. (NO one does NOT understand that). careful not to overuse double negatives, as they can confuse the meaning. Use them intentionally for emphasis.

Wrap up

Mastering negation requires learning the different functions of “nicht” and “kein”:

  • “Nicht” negates actions/verbs that are taking place.
  • “Kein” negates the existence or quantity of nouns.

Knowing where to correctly place these words takes practice. But with time, constructing negated sentences in German will become natural. Soon you’ll be able to state what is NOT happening or present with eloquent authority!