Negation in German: Kein vs. nicht

Negation in German: Kein vs. nicht

by Sandra Köktaş

Updated June 23, 2023

Negation in German is centered around three words: nein for no, kein for no/none and nicht for no. Confused yet? We recommend starting with nein, which is probably one of the first and most important words to learn in German. It answers a closed question. (For example: Do you want to get more homework? Nein.) As for nicht and kein, well, that’s where things get a bit more complex. 

In this article, we’ll explain when and how to use all of the various German methods of negation. Be prepared to dive into declension and basic sentence structure, which shouldn’t be too difficult if you follow the examples closely. Other than nicht and kein, you’ll also learn some other words to form negative sentences in German.

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Nicht (Not)

The German nicht might be challenging to pronounce, but it’s easy to use. When you want to build a basic negative sentence in German, you can most likely count on nicht to be the right word. You use nicht to negate a verb, a noun with a definite article, a proper noun (a name), a possessive adjective, any adjective or an adverb. 

VerbIch gehe nicht. (I don’t go.)
NounIch kenne nicht den Film, sondern das Buch. (I don’t know the movie, but I do know the book.) 
NameIch heiße nicht Maria. (My name isn’t Maria.)
Possessive adjectiveDas ist nicht mein Hund. (That’s not my dog.)
AdjectiveDas Haus ist nicht blau. (The house isn’t blue.)
AdverbSie läuft nicht schnell. (She doesn’t run fast.)

Where to put nicht in a sentence

Have you noticed how the word nicht takes a different position in the sentences above? As a rule of thumb, nicht comes after the verb and before any other part of the sentence. If you want to negate the sentence as such, put nicht at the end of the sentence. Read the examples above again and look carefully at the placement of nicht.

Note: Nicht usually precedes adverbs, but follows adverbs of time such as später (later), früher (earlier), gestern (yesterday) and morgen (tomorrow). For example: Sie kommt heute nicht. (She doesn’t come today).

Verbs can pose a special challenge if they consist of more than one word. 

Where to place nichtExample
Modal verbsbefore the infinitiveIch kann nicht singen. (I can’t sing.)
Separable verbsbefore the prefixSie ruft nicht an. (She doesn’t call.)
Reflexive verbsafter the pronounSie wäscht sich nicht. (She doesn’t wash.)
Auxiliary verbsbefore the past participleSie ist nicht gegangen. (She didn’t go.)
Sie war nicht gegangen. (She hadn’t gone.)
Sie wird nicht gegangen sein. (She will not have gone.)

Other than that, the correct place for nicht depends a lot on which part of the sentence you want to stress. To say “I don’t go swimming today,” you can alternatively say:

  • Ich gehe heute nicht schwimmen (sondern laufen).
  • Ich gehe nicht heute schwimmen (sondern morgen).
  • Nicht ich gehe heute schwimmen (sondern du).

Each of the above examples technically means the same thing, but each stresses a different part of the sentence’s meaning.

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Kein (No/None)

What is the difference between kein vs. nicht in German? Kein negates a noun that comes with no article or an indefinite article (a/an). Nicht negates everything else, including nouns with a definite article.

Positive statementNegation
Ich mag Gemüse. (I like vegetables.)Ich mag kein Gemüse. (I don’t like vegetables.)
Ich mag Pizza. (I like pizza.)Ich mag keine Pizza. (I don’t like pizza.)

In the above examples, kein acts as an article.

Kein can also replace the noun it negates if the noun is known:

  • Du hast ein Auto. Ich habe keins. (You’ve got a car. I have none.)
  • Du hast eine Katze. Ich habe keine. (You’ve got a cat. I have none.)

In these examples, kein acts as a pronoun.

How to decline kein

Did you notice how the ending of kein changes? Yes, that’s right — we are talking about declension. Kein has to match the noun it accompanies in gender, number and case:

Nominative singularkeinkeinekein
Genitive singularkeineskeinerkeines
Accusative singularkeinenkeinekein
Dative singularkeinemkeinerkeinem
Nominative pluralkeinekeinekeine
Genitive pluralkeinerkeinerkeiner
Accusative pluralkeinekeine keine
Dative pluralkeinenkeinenkeinen

The declension for kein as a pronoun is slightly different, but only for some singular forms:

Nominative singularkeinerkeinekeines
Genitive singularkeineskeinerkeines
Accusative singularkeinenkeinekeines
Dative singularkeinemkeinerkeinem


Ist da ein Hund im Garten? Nein, da ist keiner. (Nominative singular masculine)

Läuft da ein Kind über die Straße? Nein, da läuft keines. (Nominative singular neutral)

Hast du ein Auto? Nein, ich habe keines. (Accusative singular neutral)

More negation words

While kein and nicht are the two basic words to form negative sentences in German, there are many other options, too. We could start with adding mehr or noch to kein and nicht:

  • nicht mehr (no longer)
  • keine mehr (no more)
  • noch nicht (not yet)
  • noch keine (not any)

Other negations in German are:

  • nie /niemals (never)
  • kaum (hardly)
  • nichts (nothing)
  • niemand (no one)
  • nirgends (nowhere)
  • weder … noch (neither … nor)

Negation in German: German kein vs. nicht and more

Kein in German is used to negate a noun that has an indefinite article or no article at all. Nicht is used in all other cases. Kein has to adapt to the gender, number and case of that noun. Nicht usually stands after the verb or before any other part of the sentence you want to highlight. There are other words to negate a sentence that have close English equivalents.

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Sandra Köktas

Sandra lives in Istanbul, together with her kids, cat and dog. As a historian she thrives exploring this ancient city with her two- and four-legged loved ones. Together, they also love to go on adventures through all of Turkey and its neighboring countries. If she’s not on the road, Sandra is busy putting her experiences into writing as a freelance copywriter for the travel industry and everything related to language, culture and family. Her particular interest lies in providing information on animal welfare with her website.

Sandra Köktas

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