German Negation (Verneinung)

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The three different German Negations

In German there are three different negations:

  • Nein:   „Willst du ein Eis?“ ; „Nein!“
  • Kein:   „Ich möchte kein Eis!“
  • Nicht:   „Ich mag Eis nicht!“

Use of „nein“

„Nein“ is the negative answer to a Question. We used it exclusively to answer questions.


  • „Hast du deine Hausaufgaben gemacht?“ - „Nein!“
  • „Bist du fertig?“ - „Nein, Mami!“

Use of „kein“

„Kein“ can only negates Nouns. It is used together with nouns that do not have Articles and with nouns with Indefinite Articles.

„Kein“ has to be declined.


  • „Hast du Durst?“ – „Ich habe keinen Durst.“
  • „Das ist ein Hund.“ – „Das ist kein Hund.“

Declension of „kein“:

Deklination kein Verneinung / German negation

Recommendation: The Negative Article „kein“ 

You can find even more examples and a detailed explanation of usage, formation and declension in the lesson: The Negative Article „kein“ 

Use of „nicht“

„Nicht“ negates an entire sentence or phrase. „Nicht“ can be used to negate Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Pronouns, Prepositions, Proper Nouns and Nouns with Definite Articles.

More simply, everything that can't be negated with „kein“ or „nein“.

  • „Ich esse das nicht.“
  • „Ich habe das nicht gemacht.“
  • „Ich mag dich nicht.“

Negating Entire Sentences / Verbs (Verneinung eines ganzen Satzes/Verbs)

The Conjugated main verb is negated, means that the whole sentence / action / situation is negated.

  • „Ich kaufe das Auto nicht.“

Word order: „Nicht“ is at the end of the sentence because the verb has to be in P2!.

With more than one Verb in the sentence

  • „Ich möchte das Auto nicht kaufen.“
  • „Ich habe das Auto nicht gekauft.“

Word order: If there is a 2nd verb in the sentence, Modal Verb, helping verb,... We can place „nicht“ in front of the verb because it is not the one in P2.

Negating an Adverb (Verneinung eines Adverbs)

  • „Ich wandere gern.“ – „Ich wandere nicht gern.“

Word order: „Nicht“ needs to be in front of the Adverb that is negated.

Negating an Adjective (Verneinung eines Adjektivs)

  • „Ich bin schlau.“ – „Ich bin nicht schlau.“

Word order: „Nicht“ needs to be in front of the Adjective that is negated.

Negating a Pronoun (Verneinung eines Pronomens)

  • „Ich habe nicht dich angerufen, sondern Uwe.“

Word order: „Nicht“ needs to be in front of the Pronoun that is negated.

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Negating a Proper Noun (Verneinung eines Eigennamens)

  • „Das ist nicht Susi. Das ist Anne!“

Word order: „Nicht“ needs to be in front of the Proper Noun that is negated.

Negative Adjuncts and Complements with Prepositions (Verneinung von Angaben und Ergänzungen mit einer Präposition)

  • „Ich komme nicht zu deiner Party.“
  • „Ich bin nicht bei Frank.“
  • „Er kommt nicht vor 20 Uhr nach Hause.“

Word order: „Nicht“ needs to be in front of the Preposition.

Negating Nouns with Definite Articles or Possessive Pronouns (Verneinung von Nomen mit bestimmten und possessiven Artikeln)

  • „Er hat nicht seinen Schlüssel, sondern ihren.“
  • „Er hat nicht das Auto, sondern das Fahrrad bezahlt.“

Word order: „Nicht“ needs to be in front of the Article or Possessive Pronoun. (rare and almost always combined with „sondern“). 

Words with Negative opposite

Some words have a negative opposite and form their negation with the opposite: 

negative opposites Verneinung / German negation

Recommendation: Indefinite Pronoun

The words with a negative opposite are all Indefinite Pronouns. For more information on the use and meaning of these words, see Indefinite Pronouns.


  • Questions are answered in the negative with „Nein“.
  • Nouns with Zero Articles and Indefinite Articles are negated with „kein“.
  • Everything else is negated with „nicht“.
  • „Nicht“ always precedes what is to be negated, unless it negates the Conjugated Verb.
  • There are some words with negative opposite.

Related Topics:

Entire lesson in German only: Verneinung

For a detailed explanation of the usage, formation, and declension of „kein“ see the lesson: Der Negativartikel „kein“ (Negative Articles „kein“)

More information on German sentence structure and word order:  Satzbau (Sentence Structure).

You can find an overview of all topics under German Grammar. 

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