Kein x nicht

Leute, I have a question... I was studying German and I "stucked" into something.. "kein" and "nicht" more specifically. Kein negates nouns but why do we say "Ich mag keine Käse" or "ich spreche keine Deutsch"? Aren't those supposed to be "Ich mag nicht Käse" and "Ich spreche nicht Deutsch."?


March 25, 2019


Hey Ricardo, always nice bumping into one of your posts. This is a pretty common question and the best way I would answer it is....


• “kein” = no

• “nicht” = not

So for me, excluding the first example, all of those sentences make grammatical sense (although it should be ‘kein’ Deutsch’ because ‘Deutsch’ is neuter). But to summarise; on the most part, we use ‘kein’ with nouns, and ‘nicht’ with verbs.

• ‘Ich mag keine Käse’ = I like no cheese (I do not like any cheese) - sounds slightly awkward

• ‘Ich mag Käse nicht’ = I do not like cheese - sounds better, after all, you are negating ‘mag’ rather than ‘käse’

• ‘Ich spreche kein Deutsch’ = I speak no German (I do not speak any German)

• ‘Ich spreche Deutsch nicht’ = I do not speak German

Now I’m aware it’s slightly difficult to identify but honestly, it’s the grey part of German grammar which you will most likely pick up subconsciously. I hope I clarified something but if you’re still confused I’m more than happy to attempt to explain further. Also, apologies for the weird spacing, I posted this from my phone.

  • Syntax.
March 25, 2019

Edit. Corrected. Removing potentially confusing info.

March 26, 2019

These are fine (don't forget to decline kein, though):

  • Ich mag keinen Käse.
  • Ich spreche kein Deutsch.

These are fine (but rearrange the word order in the cheese phrase):

  • Ich mag (den) Käse nicht.
  • Ich spreche nicht Deutsch. (That one sounds a bit strange, but it's correct grammar. However, one would prefer the aforementioned kein Deutsch wording or the word order Deutsch spreche ich nicht.)

The difference between nicht and kein is basically the same as the difference between no and not.

  • Nicht is always associated with a verb. Most often it follows the verb (not necessarily directly). Nicht negates the verb.
  • Kein is always associated with a noun. It is placed before the noun. It negates the noun.

As a rule of thumb, treat theses words like its English counterparts. Whenever you would use no before a noun, use kein, otherwise use nicht. In 90% of all cases this rule will fly.
In many cases you can express yourself in two different ways as illustrated exemplary by the two different ways how to say that you do not like cheese. However, if there's ambiguity, you most often prefer to use keine (while In English one often prefers not over no):

  • I don't like cheese ~ Ich mag Käse nicht.
  • I like no cheese ~ Ich mag keinen Käse (The English phrase is very colloquial, I know, but the German sentence is fine, even better than the nicht phrase.).

One notable exception: When the verb is haben always use kein:

  • Correct: Ich habe kein Bier.
  • Not Correct: Ich habe Bier nicht. (or similar...)
March 26, 2019

What are you actually negating there though? "Ich mag keinen Käse" negates the cheese. "Ich mag den Käse nicht" would negate the liking of the cheese. Maybe I am wrong, but there is a specificity difference. It exists in English as well. "I do not like cheese" is different from "I do not like the cheese"

If I am wrong, I would love for a native speaker to correct me so I can alter my perception.

March 25, 2019

why can't u say Ich mag Käse nicht? I looked it up on Google and people say it, or not??

March 25, 2019

Well, actually you can say it. It states that you dislike cheese in general. If you say "ich mag keinen Käse" you might not like it now, maybe because your stomach is full.

March 26, 2019

As a native speaker, I have to agree with Hannibal-Barkas. "Ich mag keinen Käse" could mean you don't want it now or in that circumstance. For example: "Ich mag keinen Käse auf Nudeln". = "I don't like cheese on noodles".

"Ich mag keinen Käse" or rather "Ich möchte keinen Käse" also can mean "I do not want Cheese right now" or "I do not want to have cheese".

"Ich mag den Käse nicht" puts emphasis on "den" andwould mean "I don't like this cheese" - so probably this is a type of cheese you don't like but others are fine.

"Ich mag Käse nicht" means "I don't like cheese" as a general statement, so it would be used if you dislike it in general.

March 26, 2019
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