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
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.
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 raus = There’s no way I’m going out in this weather
Meaning: Not at all
When you need to emphasise something you can use überhaupt nicht rather than just nicht.
- Ich verstehe das nicht = I don’t understand that
- Ich verstehe das überhaupt nicht = I don’t understand that at all
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 tun = Unfortunately not, I have too much to do
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 stören = I’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 bread = Wir haben
Let’s take a look at how to correctly use negation in German.
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 Mann = There is a man
- Es gibt keinen Mann = There is no man
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 Zeit = I have no time (Zeit is the noun)
- Ich habe mit keinem Fremden gesprochen = I have spoken with no strangers (Fremden is the noun)
- Er spricht kein Deutsch = He speaks no German (Deutsch is the noun)
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.
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 nicht = I do not have your book (dein is the possessive pronoun, Buch is the noun)
Nicht is also used to negate verbs, adjectives and adverbs:
- Ich jogge nicht gern = I do not like jogging (joggen is the verb)
- Der alte Mann ist nicht freundlich = The old man is not friendly (freundlich is the adjective)
- Wir werden nicht bald abreisen = We will not be leaving soon (bald is the adverb)
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)
If the whole sentence is negated, nicht goes to the end.
- Ich kenne dieses Buch nicht = I don’t know the book
- Sie schwimmt nicht = She 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.
If you enjoyed this post, there are many more posts in the How to Say … in German series.