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The Position of “Nicht” in German Sentences


Today we will talk about the place of “nicht” in German sentence. As in the Russian language, depending on the position of a particle, you can deny a single word or an entire sentence.
If we deny a single sentence member, then “nicht” is put before that word. Here it is important to be oriented to the Russian language. But remember that if there are dependent words (articles, adjectives), the “nicht” particle should be placed before them.

  • Ich kaufe nicht eine schwarze Jacke, sondern eine schwarze Hose – I buy not a black jacket, but black pants.

Although we deny the word “Jacke”, “eine schwarze Jacke” is a full member of the offer and we do not tear it up. You don’t have to go into detail. Just do the same as in Russian.
Often, if we put “nicht” before a word that we deny, we mean the opposite (“nicht…, sondern…” – “not… but…”).
If we deny the whole sentence, then “nicht” tends to end.

  • Ich kaufe eine schwarze Jacke nicht – I do not buy a black jacket.

But remember that there are cases when the last place in the sentence necessarily takes another word. For example, the shape of the past tense Perfekt, sentences with modal verbs or detachable prefixes that are placed at the end:

  • Ich habe eine Jacke nicht gekauft – I did not buy a jacket.

This does not mean that we deny the word “gekauft”. It just has to be at the end.
In the established expressions “verb + noun”, the negation is placed before the verb.

  • Sie läuft nicht Schlittschuh – it does not skate.

If the addition or circumstance is closely related to the verb (without this member the verb loses or changes its meaning), the nicht particle is placed before the addition or circumstance. In essence, this rule is the same as the previous one.

  • Ich fahre nicht nach Frankreich – I am not going to France.
  • Ich warte nicht auf dich – I am not waiting for you (“ich warte auf dich nicht” they do not say).

Also “nicht” is put before adjectives as a circumstance.

  • Ich spreche nicht leise – I do not speak quietly.

Although formally it should translate “I don’t speak quietly”, but “quietly” here acts as a circumstance (a sentence member answering the questions “how?”, “where?”, “where from?” etc.).
But if this circumstance expresses the speaker’s attitude (words like “unfortunately”, “happily”, etc.), then “nicht” goes to the end.

  • Ich komme leider nicht – unfortunately, I will not come.

We wouldn’t say that these are the rules to be notched like a rhyme. It all has to feel intuitively. But sometimes intuition fails, then remember this article. Otherwise, there are only three things that matter: practice, practice and practice again.

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