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nicht position in these 2 sentences, and negating noun vs verb

Er schreibt seinen Eltern nicht.
Er schreibt nicht seinen Eltern.

Both of them mean "he does not write to his parents." But I think they both are grammatically correct, because nicht (and not keine) has to be used with "seinen Eltern." Which is actually correct? Also: Can someone explain the difference between negating a noun and negating a verb ? I'm finding it a little tough to understand the concept. Thanks!

March 26, 2018



Both are correct, but the second has a different emphasis and needs the information who he writes to instead, as in "He doesn't write to his parents but to his brother."

"Er schreibt keinen Eltern" would also be allowed but mean "He doesn't write to any parents." (Farfetched, but maybe a teacher not communicating with his students' parents?)

"Er schreibt keinen von seinen Eltern" would bei "He writes to none of his parents." But using "none" when there are only two is probably not good style. You could use "Er schreibt weder seiner Mutter noch seinem Vater" instead.


Both sentences are grammatically correct, but i as a native speaker never use option 2!

When you have a direct object or a sentence with only a subject and a verb put it simply at the end.

Ich esse den Apfel nicht. Ich esse nicht.

When you have a "trennbares Verb", put it right before the preposition which stands at the end (and was cut from the whole verb before).

Ich rufe dich heute nicht an.

Modalverb, straight after the modalverb: Ich kann nicht singen

When you have adverbs of time: gestern, heute , frueher, spaeter, .... put it right after the word.

Ich habe gestern nicht gegessen.

nicht stands usually before an adjective and before a preposition:

Ich bin nicht schoen.

Das ist nicht fuer dich.

There are more rules..., but those i just remembered.

Your example is negating the VERB not the noun.

When you want to do negate the noun you simply take the indefinite article and add a K in front. The articles stands as always before the noun.

ein Apfel - kein Apfel , eine Banane - keine Banane,.... Plural: keine Bananen

Ich will kein Fleisch ich will Gemuese haben!


They are both correct. There is a small difference, because in sentence #1 you negate the verb and in sentence #2 you negate the object.

So the first sentence can be understood as "He doesn't write at all, even though you might think from context that he writes his parents."

And the second sentence can be understood as "He doesn't write to his parents - but there is still a possibility that he writes to another person."

  • negating a noun:

"Er schreibt nicht seinen Eltern" - it's not his parents he is writing to, but he is (usually) writing to somebody else: "Who is he writing to? To his parents?" "No, he's not writing to his parents, but to his brother."

"Er isst nicht den Apfel" - e.g. he can choose if he wants to eat the apple or the orange, and he chooses the orange: it's not the apple he eats. "Is it the apple he eats?" "No, it isn't."

I agree with AHA3006 that you, well, at least necessarily imply that there is e.g. someone else he is writing to / something else he eats. Normally this information follows right afterwards: "Er isst nicht den Apfel, sondern die Orange." However, you can leave this information unsaid: "Did he choose the apple or the orange? Which is he eating?" "I can't see it clearly, but I can see that it's not the apple he's eating. (He's eating something, though. I just can't actually confirm that it's the orange.)" - or - "Who is the student writing to? His parents?" "For privacy reasons, I'm not allowed to tell you who my students write to, but it's not the parents he's writing to. (But I confirm that he is writing to someone.)"

  • negating a verb:

"Er schreibt seinen Eltern nicht" - e.g. he is supposed to write to his parents and wish them a happy anniversary, but he doesn't do it: "Does he write to his parents?" "No, he doesn't."

"Er isst den Apfel nicht" - I give him an apple, but he doesn't eat it. "Does he eat the apple?" "No, he doesn't."

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