In English, “no” is “no” but in German, we have three different ways of saying “no”. Even though many German students have their problems with this topic, you should not panic! After reading this article, you will know when to use “nein”, “nicht” and “kein/e”. Also, you can practice your knowledge with the free worksheet.
Negation in German
In German, we have three possibilities to express negation. To express the English “no”, we either use “nein” (no), “nicht” (no) and “kein/e” (no). As you can easily see, all of them are translated with “no” in English and therefore it might be a bit tricky to understand when to use which. In the following, I will explain their meaning and how you can know when you should use which of them.
When to use “nein” in German
You can use “nein” (don’t miss the link!) as a negation if you want to give an answer to a question as for example:
Q: “Wollen wir morgen Pasta essen?” – (Shall we eat pasta tomorrow?)
A: “Nein. Ich will lieber Pizza essen.” – (No. I prefer to eat pizza.)
When to use “nicht” in German
In German, we use “nicht”, when we like to express the negation of a verb or an adjective. In English, we do so by using “don’t” or “isn’t/aren’t”. We put do not and is/are not before the verb respectively the adjective. But unlike English, we put “nicht” after the verb when negating in German. Therefore you only know if a verb is actually done or not until you listen to what happens after it – so start practicing your patience :). Now, if you ask a question that starts with the verb and you would like to state that the verb is “nicht”, then the “nicht” stays at the same position where you would have put it in the first place and you simply move the verb to the first position of your sentence.
If you want to negate an adjective, we write the “nicht” before it. To gain a better understanding, please check the following examples:
Negating a German verb
Ich spiele nicht, sondern lerne für den Test. (I do not play but study for the test)
Singen die Kinder nicht in der Schule? (Don’t the children sing in school?)
Morgen arbeitet mein Vater nicht, wenn er krank ist. (My father does not work tomorrow if he is sick.)
Negating a German adjective
Die Kinder sind nicht klein. (The children aren’t small.)
Die neuen Autos sind nicht schön. (The new cars aren’t beautiful.)
Meine Freundin ist nicht neu in der Klasse. (My friend is not new in the class.)
When to use “kein/e”
In German, we use “kein” or “keine” if we want to negate a noun. If you choose “kein” and “keine” depends on the gender of your German noun.
Now, in the plural form, there are no indefinite articles (as like as in English) because “ein” or “eine” always refer to a single thing. As this contradicts the idea of plural one still needs to find a way to express the negation for a noun in plural. Luckily, the solution is simple: Since it shares the same definite article as female singular “die” it will very often do the same as female singular in German grammar. Therefore, this also applies here.
|der||ein Mann||kein Mann|
|die||eine Frau||keine Frau|
|das||ein Kind||kein Kind|
|die||/ Autos||keine Autos|
The miracle of “nein”, “nicht” and “kein/e”
Now, after reading this article you should be aware of when to use “nein”, “nicht” and “kein” or “keine” and how to integrate them properly into a sentence. Last but not least, the time has come to practice your knowledge with the free Worksheet – “How to negate in German“.
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