Position of Nicht in a Sentence

I've searched the internet and haven't been able to find a good explanation about where the word "nicht" should go in a sentence. Right now it seems kind of haphazard like you just have to be able to "feel" where it's supposed to go. Can anybody give me anything more concrete than this?

June 26, 2016


The position of the "nicht" is influenced by what you want to negate in a sentence. If you want to negate the verb the "nicht" goes as far to the end as possible. (infinitive verbs and prefixes of separable verbs go further to the end) To negate any other word of the sentence write the "nicht" before it. If it so happens that you want to negate a noun which only has an indefinite article or no article at all you get the article of the negation "kein" and hence you don't have a "nicht" in the sentence. To find out which word to negate in a sentence I find it helpful to put in the words with the opposite meanings. Example: We sleep at nights. = Wir schlafen nachts.

Negating the subject: Nicht wir schlafen nachts. = Not we sleep at nights. (Somebody else sleeps at night, not us.)

Negating the verb: Wir schlafen nachts nicht. = We don't sleep at nights. (We are awake at nights.)

Negating the adverb: Wie schlafen nicht nachts. = We don't sleep at nights. (We sleep at daytime.)

Or a sentence with a noun: I like books. = Ich mag Bücher.

Ich mag Bücher nicht. = I don't like books. (I distaste books)

Ich mag keine Bücher. = I don't like books. (I like everything but books.)

Ich mag nicht ein Buch. = I don't like a book, not one. (here you negate the number "ein": I like another number of books than one. (without context that is often understood as none but it can also mean that you like more than one book))

Some tricks that might help: 1. If there is an adverb to the verb it is often the thing you want to negate. 2. The verbs "sein" and "haben" are rarely negated. 3. If there is a possible "kein" that often works best. 4. If you have nouns with the definite article and put the "nicht" before these articles it will often sound wrong.

I hope I could be of help.

PS: Please ask if that was too unclear. If you have examples of sentences that are especially weird for you don't hesitate to bring them up.

June 26, 2016

Thinking about what nicht is actually negating helps a lot. Thank you!!

June 26, 2016

So if you wanted to say, "One should not do that [in that way]," would you say:

Man sollte nicht so machen


Man sollte so nicht machen

Or something completely different?

To my English brain, the first sentence feels natural but doesn't seem right. If the sentence becomes "So sollte man nicht machen," that feels natural and seems to make more sense based on what you said.

June 27, 2016

Both orders are okay, but you are missing a somehow crucial "es" here. Because you need something "one" does.

Man sollte es so nicht machen. = One should not do it like that.

Man sollte es nicht so machen. = One should do it in another way.

So sollte man es nicht machen. = One should not do it in that way.

I would say the last one would be the most natural one if you don't want to stress anything. It puts the focus on "so" but negates the verb as you have two verbs that is always a bit different. There is no way to say by the sentence which verb of both is negated. Often it is the modal verb like here as that is the only way it makes any sense but sometimes also the other verb can be the negated one. What is the opposite of "should"? Maybe "It would be bad if". So here you get with the form from above:

Man sollte es so nicht machen. = It would be bad if you did it like that.

So sollte man es nicht machen. = It would be bad if it was done in such a way.

All just nuances here. The message does not really change that much. And you can also put your emphasize in German on the important things just by pronouncing the words stronger.

I hope I could be of help.

June 27, 2016

You're a wealth of knowledge! Thank you!

June 28, 2016

Sehr hilfreicher Eintrag ! I have a hard time using 'nicht ' and indentifying adverbs in a sentence , it is going to be helpful for both of my issue !you have shed a light on the matter !

December 7, 2017


April 21, 2018

I just found a very cool explanation to the issue. Look here:

June 26, 2016

so confusing, not useful

February 27, 2019

[deactivated user]

    What a useful link, you are my saviour xD! I'm going to print it, i'm sure it will be surely useful. thank you so much!

    June 26, 2016

    This goes right along with what you said and it totally drove it home for me. Can't wait for part two! Again, Vielen Dank!

    June 26, 2016

    Thanks but the explanation in this link is more confusing than anything I've read elsewhere

    September 18, 2018

    [deactivated user]

      I can only partially help you...unfortunately is my major problem too and it's pretty confusing even for me.

      Usually when the sentence has no extra elements the nicht goes at the end.

      i don't eat = ich esse nicht

      But for example, if i want to add the element that i don't want to eat, the nicht goes always at the end.

      i don't eat sugar = ich esse Zucker nicht

      or for other examples like:

      I don't understand you= ich verstehe Sie nicht (you is the other element). I don't go over there = ich gehe dorthin nicht (dorthin is the other element).

      But in the case there are two verbs like in this example, the nicht follows the first verb:

      I don't want to eat fish = ich will nicht Fisch essen.

      But i would like to have also an answer from a native because is a thing i would like to understand more too.

      June 26, 2016

      The sentence "Ich esse Zucker nicht" is wrong, it must be "Ich esse keinen Zucker." The same for the fish sentence: "Ich will keinen Fisch essen."

      June 26, 2016

      Depends on how the sentence continues - if you want to stress that you don't eat sugar, but to different things with it, it's okay. "Ich esse Zucker nicht, ich reibe ihn mir in die Haare" would be a correct sentence (albeit of questionable content).

      June 26, 2016

      Yep! :D

      June 26, 2016

      [deactivated user]

        Oh gosh, you are absolutely right DX! My stupid brain refuses to remember it. I know that i should put it but i always forget it to put replaced by nicht...uff...

        June 26, 2016

        "ich gehe dorthin nicht" sounds wrong to me. I'd rather say "Ich gehe nicht dorthin" or "Ich gehe dort nicht hin". Couldn't tell you off the top of my head why, though. (Maybe it's not wrong though, just bad style. I could definitely see people using that phrasing in colloquial (spoken) language.)

        June 26, 2016

        You're right, "ich gehe dorthin nicht" is definitely wrong and your replacements are both correct.

        June 26, 2016

        The reason is that the verb is "dorthingehen" or "hingehen". And as I wrote above the separable prefix is drawn futher to the end than "nicht".

        June 26, 2016

        It's not necessarily written that way - depending on the message it can be "dort hingehen" or "dorthin gehen", but I suppose one could still interpret it as a fixed combination. I have to admit though that compound spelling is not my strong point since the last reform.

        June 26, 2016

        [deactivated user]

          Now i'm feeling a complete idiot xD, maybe i should really quit with german.I love it but sometimes i really want to throw out my german stuff out of the window @-@.

          June 26, 2016

          Don't despair :) Those were both easily made mistakes, even native speakers use those phrases in everyday language. (And the sugar/fish one technically wasn't really a mistake.)

          June 26, 2016

          [deactivated user]

            I know that, but for me this language is a personal challange and i want to win it.This is the third attempt that i try to learn the language by myself and seeing that i'm doing the same mistakes, it makes me feel so angry and frustrated, muarghh xD.

            June 26, 2016


            I'm native German and I don't know the rules, so I can't tell you them ;) I guess you will find a list of rules in every grammar book, but this list will be really really long. So I really recommend you to develope a "feeling" for it by A) massive reading and listening and/or B) creating flashcards with 20 example sentences.

            Each and every language has aspects that are so different from your own one that it's just impossible to formulate a short rule that you can understand and apply. For example, I had a lot of trouble with the French prepositions, especially with "en", "à" and "dans". I just always picked the wrong one. This got a lot better after I got myself to reading and listening for at least 1 hour each day.

            June 26, 2016


            For example:

            Du liest Keine Bücher. & Du liest Bücher nicht. (You don’t read books)

            Are these both grammatically correct?

            February 3, 2018


            Du liest keine Bücher emphasizes the book. i.e. Du liest keine Bucher, sondern du liest Zeitungen (You don't read books, you read newspapers.) Du liest Bucher nicht emphasizes READ, and means that you don't read the books, you do something else with them. Both are gramatically correct, but are used in different scenarios and therefore can not be interchangeable. Hope that helps!

            May 15, 2018
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