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"Ich lerne nicht Englisch, sondern Deutsch."

Translation:I am not learning English, but German.

October 12, 2015



I translated "I do not learn English, rather German" and was marked incorrect. It seems to me that "rather" and "but" here are interchangeable, but "rather" sounds better to me.


"I do not learn English, rather German" is not technically correct; in English, we would say, "I do not learn English, BUT rather, German." I am also finding that this is a helpful indicator (mentally) of sondern vs. aber; sondern implies a substitution; not this, but that; or this, instead of that.


Exactly. I was beginning to think that I was the only person, at least on Duo, that used but rather. I have had many people who seemed quite unfamiliar with but rather in English on here.


I agree and i think that is the sense of sondern or would aber work here too.


No aber would require a syntactic change in this sentence and would end up producing a quite different message. Since aber does not necessarily add a simple replacement, just saying aber would be more like saying I am not learning English, but I am learning German (to suggest that it, too, may be useful. The sondern sentence just corrects the facts, it doesn't open doors to further exploration.


I actually have always said them both together in this case in English. I am certainly not the only one, but it's obviously not as standard as I thought. But if you are only going to use one, I agree rather in better than but. If you report it, it probably will be accepted (in time). But just as a heads-up, Duo does always accept but rather for sondern (and sino and this word in other languages).


I am a bit confused about the word order sometimes. Would "ich lerne nicht Englisch" and "ich lerne Englisch nicht" be both acceptable sentences ?


They would both be acceptable.

I feel like this is a pretty good guide for the usage of "nicht".



That guide is rather inaccurate and much too complicated. In reality, "nicht" simply precedes whatever it is negating. The only tricky part is that, when it comes to verbs, "nicht" doesn't precede the finite verb (in Julian872323's example sentences "lerne"), but the non-finite part of the predicate. In their example sentences, the predicate is "Englisch lernen" in the first one or just "lernen" in the second. Or in other words, "Ich lerne nicht Englisch." means "I am not learning English.", while "Ich lerne Englisch nicht." translates to "I am not learning English.".

Edit: It seems like NeoTubNinja changed the link since I wrote my post. The new link (dartmouth) is much better and quite accurate as far as I can tell.


I changed the link to something a little better. It's an ivy league school so it can't be wildly inaccurate. However, there is still a sizable chunk of info about nicht. While it may not be complicated, I don't think it can be just brushed off.

One point of contention I have is about the tricky part. I can't see anybody putting nicht in front of the finite verb. Since the finite verb occupies the 2nd slot, that would require nicht to be in the 1st slot which just wouldn't happen. Especially from somebody like myself whose native language is English. That would be like saying "I not am learning English."

Another point of contention I have is with the examples. I'm assuming anything italicized is what is being negated, correct?

From what I understand, negating before the element (Englisch in this case) puts emphasis on that element. So I would think "Ich lerne nicht Englisch." correlates to "I'm not learning English." Conversely, negating at the end of the sentence seems to negate the general idea of the sentence. That would mean "Ich lerne Englisch nicht." correlates to "I am not learning English." or "Learning English I am not." if you prefer to keep the italics together. So I'm not sure why with the 2nd example you're emphasizing learning only. To me that carries implications that one is not learning English, but doing something else to/with English. If that's the case, why not use something like "Ich lerne nicht Englisch, sondern ich lehre." where you still keep nicht before Englisch?

The best way I can think to phrase it is in mathematical terms. Discrete to be exact. If ~ is a negation, then the first sentence would look like ~(English) and the second would look like ~(I am learning English).

Based off the new link I provided, it looks like in this situation, with the presence of sondern, nicht would go before Englisch like it does in this example. It also looks like Englisch is the verb complement of Englisch lernen and as such, the complement goes at the end with nicht coming before it.

If you have any more appropriate links that could clarify what you meant, I'm all eyes. Always happy to work on my German and fix my mistakes.


No. The second one is wrong. The right answer is "ich lerne nicht Englisch". In German, word order plays a great role. No german will ever say the second one.


"Ich lerne Englisch nicht" is wrong, as opposed to Ich esse meine Suppe nicht", which is right. That's because "meine Suppe" is the object of "Ich esse", while "Englisch lernen" is a glorified verb (sorry, i don't know the correct grammatical term).


The placement of nicht in a sentence is sort of complex. You are right that Englisch learnen is a little like a separable verb. Here is a link talking about the placement of nicht.



why ist it "nicht" and not "kein"?


"Nicht" is possible because you are contrasting: "not A, but (rather) B".

But "kein" should also be possible here.

Compare the difference in English between "I have no cats" (ich habe keine Katzen) and "I have not cats but dogs" (ich habe nicht Katzen, sondern Hunde) - though "I have no cats, but instead dogs" (Ich habe keine Katzen, sondern Hunde) would also be possible.


But in Englsih we wouldn't say "I have not cats but dogs" (unless you're Shakespeare), rather "I don't have cats, but dogs"


"Kein" is not used in this case. I don't know if there is a technical or grammatical reason for that, but it would sound like very bad style (to me as a native speaker, that is).

"Ich lerne kein Englisch" all by itself is only strange. "Ich lerne kein Englisch, sondern Deutsch" is worse.


I think the issue here is that we are talking about what we Learn. To negate a verb you always use nicht. I think this varies with the verb, to some extent. But the equivalent expression in English I learn no English also sounds a little strange. With a verb like speak it is different. Both I don't speak English (Ich spreche nicht Englisch) and I speak no English (Ich spreche kein Englisch) work. But whatever the rule, it seems to work for both languages


Kein is used for countable nouns whereas nicht is a general negation and is typically attached to verbs in my experience. Easiest to think of kein as "not a".

If you can use the pronoun a (ein) with a noun, you will end up using not a (kein).

Ich habe eine Katze. (I have a cat.) Ich habe keine Katze. (I don't have a cat.)

Ich bin fertig. (I am ready.) Ich bin nicht fertig. (I am not ready.)

In the second example there is no pronoun so you use nicht to negate the verb "bin".

The only exception I can think of to these rules is when talking about your profession. You would normally say something along the lines of, "Ich bin Arzt.", leaving out ein. However, in the negation you don't say "Ich bin nicht Arzt." You instead say "Ich bin kein Arzt."

tl;dr Basically it comes down to the presence of the pronoun "a" or not.


I'm not so sure about this, because I'm sure "Ich spreche kein Deutsch" (or other versions of the same thing) has showed up more than once.


You're correct. People do say "I spreche kein Deutsch."

I'm not a native German speaker so I'm sure somebody has a better answer, but I believe this more closely correlates to "I speak no German." as opposed to "Ich spreche nicht Deutsch." which would be "I don't speak German."

I also didn't intend the above to be all-inclusive. Just a general rule-of-thumb.

Based on this post, context seems to be a determining factor on which to use: http://forum.wordreference.com/threads/nicht-kein-deutsch-sprechen.296679/


It might also be a difference between "Ich spreche kein Deutsch" and "Ich spreche nicht deutsch"... the rules of when to capitalise "Deutsch" in such sentences are a bit tricky, since both "I do not speak (the language) German" and "I do not speak in a German way" could potentially make sense, so it's not always easy to decide whether it's an adverb or a noun.

In "kein Deutsch" must be a noun, of course.


Beware: "german" or "deutsch" is also sometimes written whithout capital as a statement of anti-nationalism -> history


(4 years later, but maybe someone else will find this useful) I think of it like this:

Ich mag keine Katze = I like no cats; meaning there are cats in the world to be liked, I just don't happen to like them.

Ich lerne kein Englisch = I learn no English. This doesn't really make sense if you're speaking generally because there is English in the world to be learned, but if you're taking an English language class, then this sentence might make perfect sense: there is English to be learned (in the class), I'm just not learning it.

For this sentence: Ich lerne kein Englisch, sondern Deutsch = I'm learning no English, but (rather) German. In general, this doesn't make much sense. However, if the context is that I told a friend I was going to take an English-language class and instead took a German-language class, but then they asked "are you learning English?", then "Ich lerne kein Englisch, sondern Deutsch" might make sense.

TL;DR Both "...lerne nicht Englisch" and "...lerne kein Englisch" are grammatically correct, but which one makes more sense (and more accurately communicates your thought) depends on the context.


The new design of the German three is definitely, better ! Reducing the number of words in the exercises further improves learning and is motivating. Thanks :)


Normally, I would translate sondern as 'instead' rather than 'but' (which I translate from aber). In most of these examples it makes better grammatical sense in the English. Yet , it isn't accepted in any of the examples?


"I do not learn English, instead German" sounds funny to me in English. Do you really say it like that?

"I do not learn English, but instead German" or "I do not learn English, but rather German" is what I would say.


I tried "I don't learn English, but instead German", but it was marked as wrong.


Whats wrong with 'instead'?


Could "aber" have been used instead of "sondern"?


Grammatically speaking, yes, but the meaning is different.

  • Ich lerne nicht Englisch, sondern Deutsch. = It's not Englisch that I am learning, but rather / but instead German. (providing the correct alternative)
  • Ich lerne nicht Englisch, aber Deutsch (schon). = I do not learn English; but on the other hand / but despite that, I do learn German. (mentioning an additional alternative as an aside; or mentioning something that you might not have believed).

Generally, "not A but B" will be nicht A sondern B.

nicht A aber B would be more for cases such as "I did not finish high school but I still got a good job" (Ich habe das Gymnasium nicht abgeschlossen aber ich habe dennoch einen guten Job bgekommen.) or "I did not get married but I do have children" (Ich bin nicht verheiratet, aber ich habe Kinder.)

Ich bin nicht verheiratet, sondern ich habe Kinder. would imply "It's not married that I am but with children", as if the two are alternatives, and having children precludes being married.


Not an English native speaker here: "I learn not English but German" <-- wrong grammar?..


" . . . learn not . . . " is an archaic sequence/format. Colloquially, it is awkward.

Then again, I find the whole sentence somewhat awkward. More common (at least in SE US) would be: "I am learning German, not English." The " . . . , but German." has an understood, unstated "I learn" or "instead I learn" or "am learning" in there that just doesn't sound quite natural to leave out.


Oh, makes sense... I perceived it (and said out loud) as "I learn [not English] but German" rather than "I [learn not] English but German", but this is exactly what i wanted to know, my native language messes up my English grammar :) we can insert "not" easily basically everywhere: "not i learn English but you" (meaning, it's you who is learning English, not me)

Also the sentence pattern that you mentioned does sound prettier and more natural to the ear.


As I thought about it, if you say it like this: "I learn [pause] not English [less pause] but German", then it does sound natural. Maybe not entirely normal or common, but certainly more natural. Trouble is: it's difficult to punctuate that particular inflection.


That stress would be: "I learn; not English, but German.", I think. In that case it is proper English.


Well, it's proper English as is--odd, but proper nonetheless. I don't think, though, that I'd use the semicolon, since its primary purpose is to join two separate but related thoughts. I think that construction focuses on the fact that I am learning and makes the specification of what I'm learning too much an afterthought. Maybe a colon, though: "I learn: not English, but German."

Still, I think the most colloquial form is going to be "I am learning German, not English." Accentuate the positive, right?


I perceived it (and said out loud) as "I learn [not English] but German" rather than "I [learn not] English but German"

That's how I interpreted it in English, and I think it's possible.

"not i learn English but you" (meaning, it's you who is learning English, not me)

That's fine in German :D "Nicht ich lerne Englisch, sondern du."

I think in English that would have to be "It is not I [it's not me] who is learning English, but you". (Or as you wrote it: it's you who is learning English, not I/me.)


You're spot on there, mizinamo. (I'm certain, at least, WRT the English. Meine Meinung hat weniger Wert über dein Deutsch, jedoch du bist Recht ich denke.)


I'm guessing the mistakes in German are not on purpose, so: "..., allerdings hast du Recht, denke ich".

You wrote: "however, you are law. I think"


Ah yeah well and "I'm learning" suits better here, I'm just lazy cause in German there's no continuous and in English simple tense is faster to write :D


Your sentence sounds correct to me.


Grammatically correct, but as some have pointed out it sounds archaic. Typically we like to hear "am" or "do" with action verbs, especially the negation.

I am learning German. I am not learning German. I learn English. I do not learn English.

That being said, "I don't learn English, but German." sounds most natural in my opinion.


How about "I'm learning not English but German" instead of "I'm not learning English but German"? As I mentioned before, I chose present simple over present continuous only because I'm lazy and also often do time practices and present simple is faster to write :) My actual question is not about the tense choice but about the "not" placement.

As I see from the various replies, it either sound archaic or doesn't if one makes stressing pauses when talking.


Well, the "archaic" variation would have "not" after the inflected (finite) verb, which is "am" in your case - but "I'm not learning" is not archaic, since "to be" does not need "do-support" :)

So "I'm learning not English but German" can only be understood as the "not English but German" version, I think, since "I'm learning not" is not possible. (Though it sounds like a mistake a German speaker learning English might make....)


Thanks! :)

Well, I think this is not THAT important at all, as in, I perfectly understand the meaning of the sentence in both German and English or the other way around, I know what to say when I want to convey this meaning, but I'm always very picky about these things somehow ^^() Not really a full-blown grammar Nazi, maybe a harmless grammar Näzchen :D


I think Mariia has the translation that is most direct and most sensible in English. It may be that "I am learning not English but German" is archaic, i.e. not a common construction, but that argument does not make it less appropriate or less correct. A similar construction would be "I am learning neither English nor German". Part of the beauty of Duolingo is that we learn more about our own language too, and that can't be a bad thing given the sorry state common parlance is in!


Would " Ich lerne kein Englisch , sondern Deutsch "make sense as well ??


I think that is gramatically correct. But I generally hear these expressions with nicht. You will notice that the nicht is in an unusual place. Normally the nicht would go at the end of the clause. But I did always learn that it would go with both nicht and kein.


I wrote: "I do not learn english, but rather I learn german."

I was judged wrong, the "correct" solutions are: • I am not learning English, "but rather I learn German" . • "I do not learn English," but German.

This whole section is F***ed up. This has happened multiple times.


I think it's difficult because there is no word in English which is as strong as the german "sondern". It means, like, ab-so-lute mutual exclusivity. The parts on the different sides of "sondern" are separated somewhat fiercely. also: absondern = to segregate (other translations possible, too) aussondern = to eliminate/weed/discard


I thought "kein/e" was to deny nouns but they used "nicht" here... what am I missing?


You're right about kein "negating" the noun (or, actually, setting the number of the noun to zero), but instead nicht is used here to negate the verb.

You can find a detailed explanation from Nancy Thuleen, ein Deutsch Professorin at University of Wisconsin - Madison.


Why not "I don't learn English, I learn German." ?


Because you miss the Not A but rather B structure that is the whole point of sondern. You simply have made two statements without connection.



To expand on what lynettemcw quite correctly explains: what you have, SpaceBearOne, is a "comma splice," which is simply grammatically incorrect. You could--if you wanted to ignore the concept of sondern--say "I don't learn English; I learn German." Or you could insert a conjunction (and, but, yet, etc).


"I'm not learning English but German". Just to be clear, no one uses that construction. We flip it. I'm learning German, not English. If you felt compelled to put the negative first, it would be "I'm not learning English; I'm learning German". Or perhaps in formal language you might say "I'm not learning English, but rather I'm learning German". Sondern is an example of German efficiency which has no direct translation.


I agree that sondern is more concise, but it is perfectly acceptable and more concise to say I am not learning English but rather German. But rather, for those of use who use it, is a good translation of sondern


I would say that it is a construction that is now considered old-fashioned and which has fallen out of use (versus it not or never being used). It can regularly be found in literature, for example, often with 'rather' and was once upon a time, not uncommon.


I typed exactly what Duo said and checked it and it was correct but it said i was wrong


Arghhh im having the same issue have reported it. But i cant move on until they fix it. Because the next level is locked until i pass this one.


these are disgusting, horrible sentences to type in english. more translations should be acceptable.


What translation would you propose? I don't see anything wrong with this translation, although it is a construction much more common in German than English. Duo is not attempting to teach you how to speak English better, but rather the workings of German sentence structure. (I swear I didn't intentionally use that construction, it just happened).


You can't just say "but German" in English. You have to say "but rather German" or "but German instead" or something like that.


While I think the given translaton should be accepted, I agree it's very awkward and more translations shiuld be acceptable. The real test to learning german sentence structue is if you can translate it the other way. I find it harder to go the other way (English to German) because Duo teaches german in sentence structures I never would never.


Can anyone please explain the different words for but? Im absolutely confused on which to use and why there are many ways to say but.


For the most part aber is but. Sondern is really like the English expression but rather. Unfortunately this English expression has somewhat shrunk so that many people say only but or only rather. But if but rather is not an expression you are familiar with, the closest you can come may be rather than. It gives the same feeling of a limited choice. The difference is subtle. If you said I learn German rather than English the assumption might be that most students are learning English. If you say I am not learning English but rather German, it is more as if you have one language slot and the person you were speaking with assumed you were taking English. So the biggest difference between rather than and but rather is that but rather (just like sondern) is used after a negative clause. So it is always Not A but rather B. Nicht A, sondern B.


This would be 'rather' in English, but doesn't make sense. The way this is phrased makes it sounds like 'English but German' is a language


Why is it "Ich lerne nicht Englisch." BUT "Ich spreche kein Englisch." ???

Can I say "Ich lerne kein Englisch" OR "Ich spreche nicht Deutsch." ???

Can anyone explain this please?


It's somewhat hard to explain. Nicht negates the verb and kein negates the noun. So there are a few cases where either could be said, I think, but sometimes they are not the same. Ich spreche nicht Englisch would mean I am not speaking English, negating the verb sprechen. Ich spreche kein Englisch means I speak no English/ I do not speak English. This negates English as a language you speak. With leenen it is more complex. If you are focused on the learning process and what you are currently learning or not learning you can use nicht. But if you focused on the subjects you can use kein.


The difference between Ich spreche kein Englisch and Ich spreche Englisch nicht illustrates the subtlety of kein vs. nicht very well.

  • Ich spreche kein Englisch. ==> Literally: "I speak no English," with kein modifying the noun, describing the amount of Englisch being spoken). This would be used by someone who never speaks English, possibly/probably because he doesn't know/understand any English.
  • Ich spreche Englisch nicht. ==> "I am not speaking English," with nicht modifying/negating the verb. This could be used to mean one doesn't speak English, perhaps because one doesn't know how to do so. It could also mean that one is not currently speaking English. Or maybe that one is refusing to speak English.


It's nicht Englisch in this sentence because you are following it with sondern Deutsch.


Actually, learning German has helped me polish my English.


Same for me. Leaving me to wonder what learning Mandarin might do for my Polish . . . .


Everybody funny. You funny too. : )


"I am not learning English, but German" - marked wrong. Why? I think it is a better translation than "I do not learn English.........."


"I am not learning English, but German" -marked wrong. Why?? In my opinion it is a better translation than " I do not learn English........"


Why isn't this acceptable- I am learning German but not English?


Does your sentence get across the same point? Sure. Of two particular languages, English and German, you are learning the latter and not the former.

Does it entirely miss the point of this exercise, which is to teach proper usage of sondern, the details of which have already been spelled out on this thread by many knowledgeable people, so I'll not repeat them here? Absolutely.


I agree with the above. The translation is nonsensical. You can't use past tense for something that didn't happen (notice how it is not "do not happen")

I did not choose to go to class, but rather i slept in. (Past tense, but what I chose to do was sleep in)

Reported Oct 17/2015


I'm not clear what you mean. You say " You can't use past tense for something that didn't happen " and then " I did not choose to go to class, but rather i slept in. (Past tense, but what I chose to do was sleep in) ". Perhaps I'm being rather dense but this seems to me a contradiction.


I see no issue of past tense here, BlazingFast.

While "I do not learn English . . . " is a bit awkward (I would say "I am not learning English . . . ."), the speaker is discussing what he is (not) currently doing, and contrasting it with what is doing. He is not saying "I did not learn English." I.e., the learning is not over and done. This is "present progressive" or "present continuous" tense.


Your explanation strengthens my point.

You have chosen something else (e.g i did not learn German, but learned another language instead). That is the result of something. It is already done, hence past tense.

If you want to say "i do not", the tense has to agree with the context.

I do not eat ice cream. (This means you never, ever eat ice cream. This is presently a fact. Maybe you hate ice cream, for some reason)

I did not eat ice cream (This means you chose not to eat ice cream this time. Maybe you were too full, or you didn't want to eat something so cold).

The point being is that do not, as you've correctly pointed out, is present tense.

You can't say you "do not learn Germany" if the learning (of German) never happened. You did learn another language.

Hope this clarifies.


I do not understand what you're saying, but that's quite all right. I do think we're simply speaking at cross-purposes, but it's not that important. I do not think the sentence and translation from Duo are nonsensical, but you do. I do not agree, but am moving on.


I am sorry if you and I have a difference of opinion. I didn't mean for that.

When I originally posted, I thought that the sentence was grammatically incorrect. To me, it sounded awkward and "nonsensical".

Example: Do you learn German? Yes I learn German.

This sounds so awkward, compared to "Are you learning German?"

That's what my issue was with this example. Nothing more, nothing less.

Furthermore, I am not here to troll. I'm here for discussion.


Also, if you say "I am not learning English", you've changed the tense. You are presently doing something. It's not finished.

If you say: "I do not learn English during my classes" - it means that your classes are teaching you something else, or some other reason.

"I did not learn English" is different. It really means that some things have happened but you didn't learn English.


I wrote, "I do not learn English, but I do learn German." should that be accepted? It wasn't. ;-;


That is too far a field structure wise. You need to come as close as possible to the German if there is an acceptable form. Because of the two independent clauses in your translation the sentence doesn't have the same feel as the German. It also totally avoids translating sondern which was mostly the point.


This time I put"I learn no English, but German." It was incorrect. Why?


Few people say but rather in English very often, but that is the best translation for sondern. It is generally said when the speaker considers a choice. I do not learn English but rather German means that the speaker felt that there was a choice of what language to learn and his choice was German. Saying you only learn German (nur Deutsch) assumes that either multiple languages are possible or that you consider it not as good a choice. As for saying I learn no English that is pretty much the definition of the difference between nicht and kein. Nicht negates the action of the verb. Kein negates the object. I learn no English is Ich lerne kein Englisch.


What is the difference between using "sondern" as opposed to "Aber"?


Sondern marks a contrast ("rather, instead") - if you have "not A but B" (not A but rather B, not A but instead B), then use sondern.


Why "I study not English, but German" not excepted like "I lean not English, but German"? Learn = Study


Learn and study are different verbs with different meanings in both German and English. While it is the goal of studying to learn, it is possible both to learn without studying and the study without learning. They are not synonymous.


Could you remember sondern as another way of saying "so in turn" As they sound similar?


They may sound similar, but so in turn expresses a very different, often almost opposite meaning. Sondern is used to express choosing a different option. This example would be used pretty much only in a situation where it is assumed that you are learning a language but only one. I might have said a sentence like this in High School but it would not likely be said among Duo users as many people are learning multiple languages and no limit or substitution is assumed.

In turn assumes some sort of endeavor of more than one person where there can be some concept of either cooperation or competition and the idea of taking turns comes in. In turn is used to express actions in response to other actions. I actually cannot think of any circumstances where you would say in turn as an option for but rather which is the best translation for sondern.


What's wrong with "I am learning German instead of English"?


Sondern neither means nor implies instead of. Instead of is statt or anstatt. Instead of implies you are making an unusual or non standard choice. Sondern just means out of a list of possible choices you have chosen one over another. There don't have to be only two options although if someone says this it implies that it is the reply to someone who made a false assumption.


Can you say "Ich lerne kein Englisch, sondern Deutsch"?


HassanSami5 asked "Would 'Ich lerne kein Englisch , sondern Deutsch' make sense as well??" about a year ago, and was answered by lynettemcw.

There are also quite a number of similar questions already posed, most of which have been answered at length.


I said "I don't learn English, instead German". IDK if that's right or wrong.


You have the approximate meaning, but trying to use instead in the same syntax as sondern doesn't work. Instead would be used in a more complete clause like I learn English instead. And instead doesn't create the same not a but rather b dichotomy as sondern.


Genau. Additionally, when you want to follow "instead" with the word/phrase/option, add an "of" (although that wouldn't work here). There are a number of comments on this discussion page already concerning how to use "instead" in this sentence.


the sentence doesn't sound quite right in English. the literal translation " I learn not English but German" makes more sense but sounds very old fashioned. I would naturally reverse the order and say " I learn German not English" which i think would be a valid translation for this.


You can't reverse it and get a real sense of sondern. Duo teaches vocabulary grammar and syntax. Just arriving at a similar meaning is not enough. I don't learn English but rather German granted us not a structure that is common any more, but it illustrates how the German sentence would best be functionally represented. This course is not a translation course, the purpose is to discover how to create meaningful Spanish sentences and understand them.


I'm not sure I understand why Spanish sentences are important in this, the "I know English and want to learn German" course.

But you're absolutely correct about how translation is far more than substituting words one-for-one.


3Sorry that was a typo. I jumped languages for a second. I will edit that. I just often have a similar discussion about the Spanish word sino which would be a compatible translation to sondern.


Oder or sondern difference, pls..


oder is "or"

sondern is "[not A] but rather/but instead [B]", as in das ist kein Buch sondern eine Zeitung "That's not a book but (rather/instead) a newspaper".


Oder is or. Ich trinke Kaffee oder Tee. I drink coffee or tea. It is usually aber not oder that people confuse. Aber is the normal word but. Sondern is but rather and is only used after a negative. So aber is flexible. Ich trinke Kaffee aber ich bevorzuge Tee. I drink Coffee but I prefer tea. Or Ich hasse Kaffee aber ich liebe Tee. Sondern is only used in a not A but rather B scenario where sondern means but rather and is generally not followed by a clause. Ich trinke nicht Kaffee sondern Tee. I am not drinking coffee but rather tea.


It told me I was wrong because I missed out a comma, when on other questions it didn't mind whether you had it or not, even when it showed one in the sentence you were meant to translate. (My apologies, I wrote apostrophe at first by mistake)


While Duo doesn't care about periods, commas, etc, apostrophes are different. The apostrophe represents a letter or letters not written. Either there is no word like that, as with didnt and dont,or it is a different word like ill, cant, wont and well. But any way you look at it, it is wrong. Computers can be programmed to recognize typos but it is imperfect at best, especially when you consider they may be using words in two languages.


Sorry, I meant to put comma.


If you wrote dont instead of don't, then die Eule may have marked that wrong.

Note that there is a comma--right before sondern--and it is required.


It is required in German and on the English translation everywhere but Duoland. Duo requires no commas, periods, etc. I learned that in Spanish because I hated putting in the ¿ and ¡ before sentences. I no longer bother with any punctuation on Duo and haven't for a couple of years now.


Das ist schon wahr. However, perhaps die Eule gave KRussell11 the instruction regarding the need for a comma before the subordinating conjunction sondern. It's been quite a while since I've had this sentence come up in a daily exercise, so I don't recall.

(And I sometimes will be lazy as well with punctuation and capitalization, lynettemcw. Especially if I'm pressed for time.)


I'm sure it's already been said, Duo, but "denn" and "sondern" need to be translated more explicitly because there not just synonyms of "aber"-- "however" and "but rather" respectively


I'm not sure denn is best translated to "however". I think it's more like "then", "because", or "since" (non-temporal meaning). See dict.cc and/or Duden.

Perhaps you are thinking of dennoch, which has the sense of "yet" or "nevertheless", et al.


You are one of the few people here who seem to understand but rather. I have been saying that for sondern (and sino in Spanish) and so many people still don't seem to know what I am saying.


.. and yet they still correct my english spelling..


Init cap: English. Unless you're applying some sidespin to your spelling.

Also, the third period of your ellipses seems to have migrated to the end of your sentence (which should receive only a single full stop).


Sie hilfen mich mit English, aber Ich lerne nicht Englisch, sondern Deutsch.


Sie helfen mir mit Englisch, aber ich lerne . . . .

Helfen conjugates to hilfst und hilft (for second and third-person singular); hilfen, though, is not a word.

When one uses helfen, think of it as "give help to . . . ", because the object (the person or thing receiving the help) is Dativ.

And unlike English (auf Deutsch: "Englisch"), the first person pronoun is only capitalized when it is the first word in a sentence.


Why is it "Ich lerne nicht Englisch", instead of "Ich lerne Englisch nicht"


When you are correcting something -- "not A but actually/rather/instead B", then the nicht comes before the thing you are denying in order to correct it.

So it's nicht Englisch, sondern Deutsch


'I learn not English, but German' was accepted.


Compare my answer, with yours and you will see that they are the same.


Nobody knows what your answer was. Die Eule does not maintain your answers for prosperity. You submit it, the app analyzes it, marks it correct/incorrect, and then allows you to review it at the end of the lesson. When you are move on, your answers disappear into the ether.


Why is this question repeating so many times


They need more exercises in the German course. They seem to pull questions randomly from the unit so repeats aren't uncommon in any of the languages I study on Duo, but in the German course it is sometimes four or five times a session I assume that indicates too few exercises to pull from. The German tree is also larger, so I think it is just the sentences that are applicable to certain teaching points that are generally over used They probably need a few more with sondern.


The English sentence is unnatural. It should be: I'm not learning English but German. Duo is not letting me correct it though. (This is not the first time.)


Duo accepted this answer, which I submitted as an experiment: "I'm learning German, not English." Like many other native English speakers, I've struggled a lot with translating "sondern" into English that makes sense. This translation conveys the meaning in English - but is it simply avoiding the common use of "sondern" in German? I was surprised that it was accepted. Input from native German speakers is especially welcomed.


I think your sentence was accepted because of what you identified as the difficulty English speakers have with sondern. It is not quite a perfect translation but it gets the essential meaning across. You asked for native German speakers, which I am not, but I am fluent in German having lived in Germany for a couple of years, and also in Spanish whose word sino has the same meaning.

I don't know whether it is my age or some other factor, but to me, but rather is the perfect translation for sondern. Many people use only but or only rather, but the combination is perfect for sondern. If you read these links on but rather with examples, I think you will get a better idea of exactly what sondern means.




Thanks for your response; I appreciate the links you included. I agree that Duolingo probably accepts dubious translations for "sondern", so I'll make myself think and write "not...but rather", even though it sounds awkward in English. I understand there aren't always perfect parallels between languages, and my goal is to learn to communicate and think in German. Your explanation has helped.


Are the German 'sondern' and 'aber' equivalent to the Russian 'но' and 'а'?


I wanted to see if I could find the answer to this question since I am just starting to learn Russian this week but I am pretty fluent in German. I think the answer is not really. The following discussion discusses и, но and а for English speakers. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-но-and-а-in-Russian-language

Reading it carefully I did find similarities between но and sondern. But sondern has more limited uses. For example, they talked about what it means if но starts a sentence. Sondern cannot begin a sentence. It is a conjunction and basically only appears after a negative in the first clause. There are some special cases, but this is the norm. Its role is to make a different choice among similar things where only one is chosen. Nicht a sondern b. Nicht swartz sondern weiß. Nicht arbeiten sondern spielen. I use but rather to translate that into English, but I must be showing my age or something because many Duo English speakers don't seem familiar with it. But it is a great match to the Spanish word sino.

I don't know if Russian is your native language or just a language that you speak, but I thought you might enjoy this short video on similar words in German and Russian. It is all spoken in German and Russian.



Regarding "but rather" vs. "but instead": I don't think it's an age thing. I'm familiar with the usage (age 50), but more importantly, it seems that the former is actually more prevalent than the latter:

rather beats instead


"I learn not English but German" passes


Why can't we use aber instead of sondern


This has been asked and answered over and over and over in this discussion page. One of the best answers is by mizinamo to RevRuckus. Please read through the page (or when do a quick search when there are an incredible number of repetitive or pointless comments) before posting yet another repetitive comment.


Why "nicht" in the question and not "kein". Is nicht in this context grammatically correct?


Kein negates the noun and nicht negates the verb. I have seen kein in sentences with sondern, but most sentences with sondern do use nicht even though the first clause of the sentence, if taken alone, would use kein. Sondern produces a construct of not a but rather b which definitely looks like you are negating the noun. But this selection sort of revolves around the verb. The issue is which language you are learning. That's my take, but here is a good guide to negation in German for more cases. https://www.fluentu.com/blog/german/german-negation/


Yes, nicht is correct here when you are setting up a "not A but B" contrast.


I'm confused. So what do I learn here? German or neither? Please help, danke danke


I am not sure what your question is here. But to break the sentence into two parts it says: I am not learning English. I am learning German.


Yes. But to ignore the conjunction misses the point a little. Sondern creates a but rather scenario where it is implied that only one is learned. So it always creates a Not A but rather B scenario.


Oh, I very much agree. I was only trying to answer the question that LFish6 asked without going into an explanation of the details of how it was worded and possibly causing further confusion.


What is wrong with "I learn no English, but German.", I was marked incorrect!


Well the easiest answer is that nicht negates the verb and kein negates the noun. I learn no English would be Ich lerne kein English. That would be the more normal sentence except for sondern. Sondern creates a Not A but rather B situation and almost always uses nicht, although you will sometimes see kein.


As a native English speaker (american) just saying but at the end of these sentences sounds really wrong. I'm not sure if it's grammatically correct to just "but German" but It would confuse me for a second to her it. I would say one of the following: "I am not learning English, but rather German." "Instead German" "But actually German" "I am not learning English; I'm learning German." "I do not learn English, but instead German" Actually, I think "I do not learn English," sounds cringie as well.


Different people have different sensibilities about this, but I am with you. But rather is actually the best translation for sondern, and it is accepted by Duo. We don't really have a one word translation here, but other languages do. It is the same as sino in Spanish, for example. But I have been doing Duo for quite a while now and it seems to me that so many people seem to not be familiar with but rather. I don't know whether it is going out of use or if it always had such spotty use, but it seems to not mean much to many people.


I think part of the issue is that this sentence is just too formal and would never come up in natural conversation and on top of that if we are going to say 'not A but B' we essentially start over the sentence. ★"Are you learning English?" "No, I'm learning German.” Or "No, but I am learning German." Or "I'm not learning English; I'm learning German." ★"He takin' English?" "Naw. He's gonna take German instead." "Coo'."


I guess that's a stylistic difference. I use a but rather construction like this in English all the time. It does tend to be in more analytical situations than which language I am learning though. But you will see but rather throughout my comments on Duo, mostly in Spanish and German where I illustrate technical points. But sondern would work perfectly there (as would sino in Spanish). Unfortunately, the sentences where it would be most consistently used are rather too complex for many Duo learners. I think that is the key to many of Duo's strange sentences. They have vocabulary to drill, but don't want to build complex sentences. It is amazing how many times I have seen a comment calling a six or seven word sentence "so long". But it's hard to write short meaningful sentences drilling some words.


I do concede that in a more formal (analytical, academic, etc.) statement/setting one might say "but rather". However my comment was more about informal conversation.


why not "I learn english but not german"?


Because that's the absolute opposite of what the German sentence says. Ich lerne nicht Englisch I don't/am not learning English. The sondern part is translated but rather. I am not learning English, but rather German.


Because that means more or less the opposite.


''I learn no English, but rather German'' was rejected. This is proper English prose. The translation is accurate and it makes sense. בס"ד


Actually it's not an accurate translation. Yours would use kein, not nicht. Remember that nicht negates the verb, while kein negates the noun. Kein is also a possibility with sondern, though you see it less.


''I am not learning English, but German'' is the accepted translation. Yet the system is making use of the word ''am.''

I could change it to ''I learn not English, but rather German'' which would negate which? The verb? The noun?

Is ''not learning'' equivalent to ''learn not?''

Thanks in advance. בס"ד


The use of "I learn not English" is archaic. Nowadays it sounds more like a literal translation than anything else. Think of "I know not why..." which is also archaic. It would simply sound strange to say this today instead of "I don't know why...".


Yes, at least theoretically. I am, however an American. In modern American English there are essentially only two single, main verbs that form their negatives without using the auxiliary verb do. Those verbs are to be and to have. Even the verb to have generally uses do in the negative except when it is an auxiliary in the perfect tenses. All verbs in constructions with auxiliary verbs simply use not, but do is essentially an implied auxiliary in every English statement except those using the verb to be. That do, although absent from statements except for emphasis, is used to form questions and negatives. Think can be another exception, especially in constructions like this. I think not about the price but rather the quality is a good construction, and of course I think not is a famous retort. This construction makes it a little more likely. But the natural American way to say this is either in the progressive (which is, after all the default present tense for many verbs) or I don't learn..


Why 'ich lerne English nicht, but German.' is not correct?


The main reason is doubtless because that sentence is Hal German and half English.


Shouldn’t the German sentence be “Ich lerne Englisch nicht, sondern Deutsch”?


Shouldn’t the German sentence be “Ich lerne Englisch nicht, sondern Deutsch”?


You're specifically negating Englisch and replacing it by Deutsch, so nicht comes before Englisch.


Does the word “sondern” have anything to do with the placement of “nicht” at all? I thought I saw that somewhere?


Does the word “sondern” have anything to do with the placement of “nicht” at all?

I don't think so.

sondern is the "but" you use when you're replacing a wrong assumption with the correct answer.

The nicht could be placed elsewhere if the wrong assumption is, say, the verb and not the object: Ich lerne Englisch nicht, sondern ich kann es schon. "I'm not learning English; I can already speak it."


writing in English,we do not require that space you ask for


What space do you mean?


Why are "englisch" and "deutsch" spelt in capital letters?


Why are "englisch" and "deutsch" spelt in capital letters?

And why didn't you do so? :)

Englisch and Deutsch (as correctly spelled) are capitalised because they are noun, and all nouns are capitalised in German.


I am afraid they are not nouns, but adjectives! Supposing they were nouns, shouldn't we say "Ich lerne kein English, sondern Deutsch"?


I am afraid they are not nouns, but adjectives!

I disagree. They are names of languages. Names are nouns.

Supposing they were nouns, shouldn't we say "Ich lerne kein English, sondern Deutsch"?

Not necessarily.

You could also say, Ich trinke nicht Wasser, sondern Saft, for example.


In general nicht negates the verb and kein negates the noun. This sentence is specifically talking about what is being learned. I am surprised that you asked about the capitalization, though. In English we capitalize the names of languages as "proper nouns", the only ones we capitalize.


I'm not learning English but German is also correct.


I am confused with the sentence structure for "Nicht". Why isnt it place at the end (eg Ich lerne Englisch nicht, sondern Deutsch)


Well, it's a little funky to explain. The rule I learned is that nicht negates the verb and kein negates the noun. And that's still true with sondern. We are talking about what we are learning here, not necessarily what we speak or anything else about the languages. But nicht does move in sondern statements in such a ways as to more starkly contrast the a element in the sondern not a but rather b statement.



What happen to the "Don't use nicht for noun?"


What happen to the "Don't use nicht for noun?"

It doesn't apply (as strongly) to nicht A, sondern B type sentences, where you are negating the noun and immediately replacing it with the correct alternative.


Isn't "I study" another translation for "Ich lerne"? It was given as an alternate in another unit, but when I put "I am studying not English but German" it was marked wrong.


I don't think lernen is ever used definitely to mean study. Both lernen and studieren are cognates, and they fit perfectly. There are obviously many sentences where either can be used without really changing the meaning. But there won't be a case where lernen is more appropriate in German where to study is more appropriate in English. And since one aspect of every exercise on Duo is demonstrating your knowledge of the vocabulary, you were marked down. There is no situation where studying and learning are actually synonymous. I've known people who studied for hours but not learned a thing.


"studied for hours but not learned a thing" Excellent observation!! :D

I agree about learn vs study. They are not the same thing, though there is some conceptual overlap.


I had a teacher who used to say, "You study to learn, but you have to learn to study."


Yes! Studying is definitely an art and a skill that takes much practice, and (in America, at least) public education does not teach that art, but assumes the skill.


Most places. When I was an American student in Germany, I took an AVID class in the public American school I attended.

Granted, I got nothing like that when going back to the mainland, but there are a few of us out there who learned to study (somewhat)!

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