How to Use Negation in German [Negative Sentences Made Easy]

As nice as it would be to like everything and be able to do anything, that’s not always possible. Sooner or later you need to know how to use negation in German in order to say that you can’t do something, or don’t have something.

After reading this post you will know:

  • What German negation is & how to use it correctly
  • When to use kein & nicht to say ‘no’ or ‘not’ in German
  • Where to put nicht in a sentence

What is Negation in German?

When we want to use German negation in a sentence (to turn a sentence from a positive into a negative) we have a couple of options. To begin with, let’s take a look at some examples of negation in English:

  • I don’t (do not) like my neighbour
  • I can’t (can not) dance
  • We have no bread left at home

You can see from the above examples that in English we often use two negations ‘not’ and ‘no’. The good news is that German uses a similar system: nicht (not) and kein (no).

Unlike in English, we never use the standard ‘no’ (nein) to negate a sentence. In German nein is only ever used an independent phrase, never to negate a sentence. For example:

We have no breadWir haben nein Brot (incorrect!)

Let’s take a look at how to correctly use negation in German.

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German Negation: Using Kein

To keep things simple, think of kein as another way to say ‘no’ in German.

Kein is only used to negate a noun, and is used in place of the indefinite article (einen, eine, ein etc.) or where there is no article. It always goes directly in front of the noun.

To make things clearer, the noun genders are coloured as follows: masculine, feminine, neuter & plural.

Ich habe einen Kuchen.
I have a cake.
Ich habe keinen Kuchen.
I have no cake.

You’ll notice that in this case kein has -en added to the end. We need to do this because kein is replacing the indefinite article (einen), and needs to be behave in the same way, changing it’s ending depending on whether the nominative, accusative, dative or genitive case is being used. Here are a few more examples:

Ich habe Zeit.
I have time.
Ich habe keine Zeit.
I have no time.

In this example the noun, Zeit (time) doesn’t need an article in front of it. Since it’s a feminine noun and we’re using the accusative case, kein has an -e added, just like die Zeit.

Er spricht Deutsch.
He speaks German.
Er spricht kein Deutsch.
He speaks no German.

In this example the noun is neuter. Again there’s no article needed, we’re using the accusative case, which means that for neuter nouns, no ending is needed on the article.

Ich habe mit Fremden gesprochen.
I spoke with strangers.
Ich habe mit keinen Fremden gesprochen.
I spoke with no strangers.

Here we’re using a plural noun, and also the preposition mit which demands the dative case. Plural articles take a -en ending in the dative, so we get keinen Fremden.

So we know that kein negates nouns in German, but only when indefinite or no article is used.

But what if you want to say ‘I don’t know the woman’. Because the definite article is being used, we use to use nicht, instead of kein.

German Negation: Using Nicht

We use nicht for all other negation in German. Think of nicht as ‘not’ in German.

If we want to use a definite article (der, die, das) or possessive pronoun (mein, dein, sein, ihr etc.) with a noun, we need to use nicht.

Negating Nouns

Ich kenne die Frau.
I know the woman.
Ich kenne die Frau nicht.
I don’t know the woman.
Ich habe dein Buch.
I have your book.
Ich habe dein Buch nicht.
I don’t have your book.

Nicht is also used to negate verbs, adjectives and adverbs:

Negating Verbs

Ich jogge gern.
I like jogging.
Ich jogge nicht gern.
I don’t like jogging.

Negating Adjectives

Der alte Mann ist freundlich.
The old man is friendly.
Der alte Mann ist nicht freundlich.
The old man is not friendly.

Negating Adverbs

Wir werden bald abreisen.
We will leave soon.
Wir werden nicht bald abreisen.
We will not leave soon.

Where To Put ‘Nicht’ in a Sentence

Where nicht appears in the sentence varies, but the general rule is that it goes in front of the thing it is negating. Place nicht in front of the thing you want to emphasise.

Ich gehe heute nicht einkaufen.
I’m not going shopping today.
(I’m not going shopping today, but may do something else)
Ich gehe nicht heute einkaufen.
I’m not going shopping today.
(I’m not going today, but maybe on another day)

In simple sentences and if the whole sentence is negated, nicht goes to the end.

Ich kenne dieses Buch nicht.
I don’t know this book.
Sie schwimmt nicht.
She does not swim.

In sentences where there are more than one verb, nicht goes in front of the verb it’s negating:

Sie kann schwimmen.
She can swim.
Sie kann nicht schwimmen.
She can not swim.

And if we’re adding more detail with an adverb, nicht goes in front of the adverb.

Sie kann gut schwimmen.
She can swim well.
Sie kann nicht gut schwimmen.
She can not swim well.


  1. Oh thanks Emma! A brilliant post that will make my life much easier! 😁👍I often find I put ‘nicht’ in the wrong place on Duolingo, but your explanation has finally made it clear.

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