How to Say ‘No’ in German [& Use German Negation]

no in german

When it comes to saying ‘no’ in German, most of us have heard of the word nein. However there are a few other ways to express a negative response other than nein. There are also the different ways to negate a sentence, such as ‘I don’t like chocolate’ (echt?! really?!) and ‘We have no time today’.

In this post you will learn all the common ways to say ‘no’ in German, and the various ways to negate a sentence.

How to Say ‘No’ in German

Nein

Meaning: No

The direct translation to ‘no’. Just like in English, it can sound a little rude if used on it’s own. Pair it with danke (thank you) to make it sound more polite.

nein danke

Nee

Meaning: Nope / nah

Nee is a colloquial word for ‘no’ in German that is widely used in Northern and Central Germany. It sounds less abrupt than nein, and can be compared with and English ‘nope’ or ‘nah’.

Auf keinen Fall

Meaning: No way / absolutely not

For when you want to make it clear you will not change your mind. You can add gar to increase the intensity of the statement further: auf gar keinen Fall (absolutely no way / under no circumstances).

Ich gehe auf keinen Fall bei diesem Wetter rausThere’s no way I’m going out in this weather

Überhaupt nicht

Meaning: Not at all

When you need to emphasise something you can use überhaupt nicht rather than just nicht.

Ich verstehe das nichtI don’t understand that
Ich verstehe das überhaupt nichtI don’t understand that at all

Leider nicht

Meaning: Unfortunately not

If you need to say no, but you want to soften the news to someone, you can say leider nicht. It will express to the person you are saying ‘no’ to that you are doing so with regret.

Kommst du mit ins Kino?Are you coming to the cinema?
Leider nicht, ich habe zu viel zu tunUnfortunately not, I have too much to do

Lieber nicht

Meaning: Would rather not

If you want to refuse something, but really don’t want to upset anyone, one of the softest ways to say ‘no’ would be ‘I’d rather not’. Luckily German has a similar phrase for this situation: lieber nicht.

Können Sie mit Sandra reden?Can you talk to Sandra?
Ich möchte sie lieber nicht störenI’d rather not disturb her

How to Use German Negation

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.

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 (ein, eine), directly in front of the noun.

Es gibt einen MannThere is a man
Es gibt keinen MannThere is no man
Es gibt keinen Mann

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, and needs to be behave in the same way, changing it’s ending depending on which case is being used. Here are a few more examples:

Ich habe keine ZeitI have no time (Zeit is the noun)
Ich habe mit keinem Fremden gesprochenI have spoken with no strangers (Fremden is the noun)
Er spricht kein DeutschHe speaks no German (Deutsch is the noun)
Er spricht kein Deutsch

So we know that kein negates nouns in German, but only when there is no definite article being 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.

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.

Ich kenne die Frau nicht I do not know the woman (die is the definite article, Frau is the noun)
Ich habe dein Buch nichtI do not have your book (dein is the possessive pronoun, Buch is the noun)
Ich habe dein Buch nicht

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

Ich jogge nicht gernI do not like jogging (joggen is the verb)
Der alte Mann ist nicht freundlichThe old man is not friendly (freundlich is the adjective)
Wir werden nicht bald abreisenWe will not be leaving soon (bald is the adverb)
Wir werden nicht bald abreisen

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

If the whole sentence is negated, nicht goes to the end.

Ich kenne dieses Buch nichtI don’t know this book
Sie schwimmt nichtShe does not swim

So now you know how to say ‘no’ in German, and how to correctly use kein and nicht to negate a sentence. If you’re ready to be more positive check out How to Say ‘Yes’ in German.

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