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Even people who don't study German know that Nein means no in German.

But of course that's

only the beginning to German negation. The German adverb nicht and adjective kein can be used
to negate a sentence as well. (We will discuss other ways of saying no in German in German
Negation II.) Nicht is the English equivalent of "not". Kein on the other hand can have differing
nuances depending on the sentence: no, not any, not a, none, no one, nobody.
The rules for applying kein and nicht are actually quite simple. (really!) They are as follows:
Nicht is Used in a Sentence When:
- The noun to be negated has a a definite article.
Er liest das Buch. Er liest das Buch nicht. (He is not reading the book.)
- The noun to be negated has a possessive pronoun.
Er liebt seine Freundin. Er liebt seine Freundin nicht. (He does not love his girlfriend.)
- The verb is to be negated.
Ich will schlafen. Ich will nicht schlafen. (I don't want to sleep.)
- An adverb/adverbial phrase is to be negated.
Sie rennt schnell. Sie rennt nicht schnell. (She does not run fast.)
- An adjective is used with the verb sein.
Das Kind ist geizig. Das Kind ist nicht geizig. (The child is greedy.)
Kein is Used in a Sentence When:
- The noun to be negated has an indefinite article.
Ich will einen Apfel essen. Ich will keinen Apfel essen. (I don't want to eat an apple.)
The word kein is in fact k + ein and is positioned where the indefinite article would be.
- the noun has no article.
Ich habe Zeit dafr. Ich habe keine Zeit dafr.
(I don't have time for that.)
Please note that though ein has no plural, kein does and follows the standard case declension
The Position of Nicht

The position of nicht is not always so clear-cut. However, generally speaking, nicht will precede
adjectives, adverbs and either precede or follow verbs depending on its type. For more detail see
The Position of Nicht
Nicht and Sondern, Kein and Sondern
When nicht and kein negate only a clause, then usually the second clause that follows will begin
with the conjunction sondern.
Ich will nicht dieses Buch, sondern das andere.
To put particular emphasis on nicht, positioning it at the beginning of the sentence is acceptable:
Nicht Karl meinte ich, sondern Karin.

The Position of Nicht

The position of nicht (not) in a sentence is actually quite simple and straightforward.
You just have to keep in mind a few points and the positioning of nicht will (literally)
fall into place.
Nicht is an Adverb
Nicht is an adverb, and so you will always find it either before or after a verb,
adjective or fellow adverb. It usually precedes an adverb or an adjective, but likes to
settle after conjugated verbs. (So think opposite of English)
Ich trinke nicht meine Limonade. (I'm not drinking my lemonade.)
Nicht and Declarative Sentences
On the other hand, nicht likes to travel all the way to the end of a sentence at times.
This happens most often with declarative sentences.
Sie arbeitet nicht. (She is not working.) > A sentence with just a subject and verb.
Er hilft mir nicht. (He doesn't help me.) -> A sentence with a direct object (mir).
The same applies with simple yes/no questions:
Gibt der Schler dem Lehrer die Leseliste nicht? (Is the student not giving the
reading list to the teacher?)

Nicht and Separable and Compound Verbs:

With verbs, nicht will bounce around a bit depending on the type of verb:

Nicht will be positioned right before a verb prefix in a sentence containing a separable verb.
Wir gehen heute nicht einkaufen. (We are not going shopping today.)
Nicht will be positioned right before an infinitive or infinitives that is part of a
verbal combination.
Du sollst nicht schlafen. (You should not sleep.)
Du wirst jetzt nicht schlafen gehen. (You are not going to sleep now.)
Nicht and Adverbs of Time:
The adverbs of time that have a chronological logic to them, will usually be followed
by nicht. These are adverbs such as : gestern (yesterday), heute (today), morgen
(tomorrow), frher (earlier), spter (later).
Sie ist gestern nicht mitgekommen.
(She did not come along yesterday.)
Contrarily, adverbs of time that do not have a chronological logic to them will be
preceded by nicht.
Er wird nicht sofort kommen. (He will not come right away.)
With all other adverbs, nicht is usually positioned directly before them.
Simone fhrt nicht langsam genug. (Simone doesn't drive slow enough.)

So in a nutshell

Nicht will usually precede:

adverbs of time that cannot be organized chronologically

all other adverbs


separable verb prefix

verb infinitives


prepositional phrases

Nicht will usually follow:

Adverbs that can be organized chronologically