I have another question on negation. One of the rules I found on line states that if there is a prepositional phrase, nicht precedes the phrase. Does that rule apply if the prepositional phrase includes an indefinite article or would I use the rule for nouns with no article or an indefinite article instead? Would something like "I see him in a car" be negated as "Ich sehe ihn nicht in einem Auto" or "Ich sehe ihn in kein Auto"? (Reverso gives me "Ich sehe ihn in einem Auto nicht", which doesn't follow the rule I learned for prepostional phrases OR nouns with an indefinite article.) This negation stuff is SO confusing to me but I'm determined to get it!

June 24, 2018


I would say it could be either „Ich sehe ihn in keinem Auto.“ ;) or „Ich sehe ihn nicht in einem Auto“, however the latter would need to be followed by a "sondern" clause, z.B.:

„Ich sehe ihn nicht in einem Auto, sondern auf einem Pferd.“

Whereas the former is complete as is, and needs no further info.
The reason for the discrepancy in the two sentences is that "nicht" is a specific negator, and negates exactly what it precedes, with the exception of "nicht" coming at the end of a clause, in which case it negates the clause as a whole. On the other hand "kein" is a more generic negator and doesn't relate to the noun it precedes as strongly as "nicht" does with whatever it precedes.

I'll try and illustrate the difference of the two by translating them back into English:

„Ich sehe ihn nicht in einem Auto...“

"I do see him, it just isn't in a car" which is why these types of clauses need a "sondern" clause. Can you imagine someone saying:

"I see him. Not in a car."
Well? Where do you see him? In What? Give me answers!! :P

„Er sitzt da drüben in seinem Auto.“
„Aber ich sehe ihn in keinem Auto.“

"He's sat over there in his car."
"But I don't see him in any car."

Even though the negation applies directly to the car with "kein" I still get the feeling you can't see him at all, and are just adding further information that you've looked in all the cars nearby and he isn't in any of them. Contrasted to „nicht in einem Auto“ where I get the feeling you can see him, it just isn't in a car.

I know negation in German is another one of those topics that on its own could drive someone to madness, but I can assure you if you stick with it, it will make sense (though I would be the first to concede I have by no means mastered it). Anyway, I hope I might have helped clear the fog somewhat and not muddied the waters more than they already were :P

the most natural negation of "Ich sehe ihn in einem Auto" ("I see him in a car") seems to me indeed "Ich sehe ihn nicht in einem Auto". Since the (imaginary) brackets would be "Ich sehe ihn (nicht in einem Auto)", the sentence would very likely be continued by something like ", sondern auf einem Fahrrad" (", but on a bicycle"), as it would in English as well, because the meaning is "I don't see him in a car". The sentence "Ich sehe ihn in keinem Auto" (note the dative case") is another option for a negation, but with a slighly different meaning, namely "I don't see him in any car", e.g. in the context "I don't see him in any one of the cars parked here". The Reverso-Translation is grammatically wrong.

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