How to Say "No" in German (with Tips on How to Tackle the German Negation)

How to Say "No" in German (with Tips on How to Tackle the German Negation)

How to Say "No" in German

 

Today, we will take a look at how to say “No” in the German language. Saying a simple “No” in German is quite similar to English. It’s the tricky “not” that makes things difficult. However, after reading today’s article, you’ll see that it will be kein Problem for you from now on.

 

German Word for "No"

 

The direct equivalent is nein. The pronunciation is the same as in “nine” or [naɪ̯n] if you prefer IPA. By the way, ei is always pronounced [aɪ̯] in German:

 

  • (das) Ei [aɪ̯] – egg
  • weit [vaɪ̯t] – far
  • bleiben [ˈblaɪ̯bən] – stay

 

Don’t forget that “nine” means neun [nɔʏn], though.

 

Nein is the opposite of ja – yes. 

  • Nein, er ist nicht da. – No, he isn’t here.
  • "Hast du heute Zeit?" "Nein, leider nicht." – "Do you have time today?" "No, unfortunately not."

 

Other Ways of Expressing "No"

 

Another important word to remember is kein [kaɪ̯n]. It complicates things a little as it can also mean “not.” Let’s look at a couple of useful phrases with kein:

 

  • kein Problem – no problem
  • keine Ursache – no worries
  • kein Zweifel – no doubt
  • auf keinen Fall – no way
  • Ich habe keine Zeit. – I don’t have time. Watch out for the endings! They’re the same as in indefinite articles (kein, keine, keinen, keiner, keinem, keines).

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How to Say "Not" in German

 

The word we’re looking for is nicht. However, we’ve already mentioned that another possible translation is kein. What is the difference, then?

Generally, you would put kein where you would use an indefinite or no article:

 

  • Ich habe keine Idee. – I’ve no idea.
  • Er spricht kein Englisch. – He doesn’t speak English.
  • Es gibt keine Äpfel. – There are no apples.

 

Nicht mostly negates verbs, adverbs, adjectives, or nouns with a definite article or possessive pronouns:

 

  • Ich kenne den Mann nicht. – I don’t know the man.
  • Ich kann nicht schwimmen. – I can’t swim.
  • Es ist nicht weit. – It’s not far.

 

Sometimes, both are possible with a small difference in meaning: Ich spreche kein Deutsch. – “I don’t speak German.” But Ich spreche nicht Deutsch. – “I don’t speak German” meaning “but I speak another language.”

 

Word Order in Negative Sentences

 

Kein is always used before nouns at the place of the indefinite article. Das ist eine Katze./Das ist keine Katze. – “It’s a cat./It isn’t a cat.”

 

The position of nicht is not carved in stone, though. A good rule of thumb is that it precedes what it negates:

 

  • Wir werden nicht morgen nach München fahren. – We aren’t going to Munich tomorrow. (It's not going to happen tomorrow.)
  • Wir werden morgen nicht nach München fahren. – We aren’t going to Munich tomorrow. (We are going somewhere else.)
  • Wir werden morgen nach München nicht fahren. – We are negating the verb here.

 

When it negates the whole sentence or phrase, it goes to the end: Ich arbeite am Samstag nicht. – “I don’t work on Saturday.”

Do you remember how to translate “I don’t speak German?” You can also say Ich spreche Deutsch nicht. It means the same as Ich spreche kein Deutsch.

 

Other Useful Expressions

 

Like in other Germanic languages, two negatives make a positive. So, here’s a list of other negative words that are followed by a positive verb form.

 

  • nichts – nothing (Ich habe nichts gesagt. – I said nothing.)
  • nie – never (Nie wieder! – Never again!)
  • niemals – (more emphatic) never (Das wird er niemals tun! – He will never do that!)
  • niemand – nobody (Das weiß niemand besser als er. – Nobody knows it better than he does.)
  • nirgendwo – nowhere (Man kann nirgendwo sonst nachsehen. – There’s nowhere else to look.)
  • nirgendwohin – nowhere (Die Straße führt nirgendwohin. – The street leads nowhere.)

 

Saying "No" in German – a Summary

 

Let’s sum it up:

 

Nein

 

The opposite of Ja – “Yes.” It’s used in the same way as “no” in English.

 

  • "Bist du müde?" "Nein." – "Are you tired?" "No."
  • Aber nein! – Oh, no!
  • Es war ein eindeutiges Nein. – It was a clear no. (You can see that it can also have a form of a noun.)

 

Kein

 

Kein negates nouns with indefinite or no article. It has endings of an indefinite article. It can be translated as “no” or “not”.

 

  1. Singular masculine – kein, keines, keinem, keinen
  2. Singular neuter – kein, keines, keinem, kein
  3. Singular feminine – keine, keiner, keiner, keine
  4. Plural – keine, keiner, keinen, keine

 

Here are more example sentences with kein:

 

  • Ich habe kein Wort verstanden. – I haven’t understood a single word.
  • Er hat keine Kinder. – He doesn’t have children.
  • Es besteht kein Grund zur Besorgnis. – There’s no reason to worry.
  • Wir hatten keine Lust, nach Hause zu gehen. – We didn’t feel like going home.
  • Sie brauchen keine Angst zu haben. – You don’t have to be afraid.
  • Das ist kein Argument. – This is not an argument.

 

Nicht

 

It’s an equivalent of “not.” Its position depends on what it negates. Let’s look at some examples:

 

  1. Ich verstehe dich nicht. – I don’t understand you. (It negates the whole sentence.)
  2. Rühr mich nicht an. – Don’t touch me. (It negates the whole sentence, but there is an inseparable prefix at the end.)
  3. Es hat mir gar nicht gefallen. – I didn’t like it at all. (It goes to the end of the sentence but before a past participle.)
  4. Ich kann nicht klagen.  I can’t complain. (Nicht precedes an infinitive.)
  5. Wir waren nicht allein. – We weren’t alone. (If nicht negates an adjective, it precedes it.)
  6. Hans durfte nicht nach draußen. – John wasn’t allowed to go out. (It precedes adverbs.)

 

Negating Nouns in German

 

You can use either kein or nicht when negating nouns. Kein is used in place of an indefinite or no article. Nicht is required where there’s a definite article or a possessive pronoun.

 

  1. Ich habe kein Geld. – I don’t have money.
  2. Ich habe nicht das Geld. Or Ich habe das Geld nicht. – I don’t have the money.

 

Typical mistakes when Saying "No" in German

 

How would you translate “I’m not happy?” Don't say Ich bin kein glücklich. You’re negating an adjective, so you need to use nicht.

Another typical mistake would be Das ist keine meine Tasche. – "This isn’t my bag." There’s a possessive pronoun (meine), so you have to use nicht. 

Hopefully, you've found all the information on negation you were looking for. If anything is still unclear, let us know in the comments below.    

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