Kein OR Nicht

Hi, I am confused about the use of Kein and Nicht. For example, 1). Der Empfänger ist keine Frau. 2). Ich bin nicht der Verfasser.

Why is it 'keine' instead of 'Der Empfänger ist nicht Frau' in the first sentence? Why does it use 'nicht' in the second sentence? What are the differences of Kein and nicht?

May 30, 2014


You use "kein" before nouns when there is no article or when it would be a form of "ein" (like your first example). "Nicht" is for negating a whole idea, parts of a sentence other than nouns, or when the noun has a definite article (like in your second example). This page explains the difference in more detail and with examples and practice exercises:

May 30, 2014

Thank you, very useful link!

May 31, 2014

Both "nicht der" and "kein" are grammatical but the meaning is different.

"Kein" is the negation of "ein" and its English equivalent is either "not a" or "no", e.g. That's no/not a moon.

And just like in English you would say "not a woman" instead of "*not woman", you have to say "keine Frau" instead of "*nicht Frau".

(Edit: the previous sentence previously said that "nicht eine Frau" was wrong, but if you read the replies below you can see that there are a lot of cases where it can be right although beginners may want to skip those and just stick to "keine" and its various inflections to avoid confusion. You can go back when you're more comfortable with the language.)

If one says:
"Ich bin kein Verfasser", that is simply a statement that he is not an author
"Ich bin nicht der Verfasser", means "I am not the author". Implying, maybe, someone else is the author, or he is only a publisher.

May 30, 2014

"nicht eine Frau" could be a grammatically correct, for example in a sentence like:

  • Es gab nicht eine Frau auf der Party (emphasis on "eine") = There was not a single woman at the party

But maybe a better way to put it would still be: "Es gab keine einzige Frau auf der Party"

So in some contexts you can use "nicht ein", but in almost every case "kein" is the only right way. Using "nicht ein" has another meaning:

May 31, 2014

It is not really true that "in almost every case "kein" is the only right way". In every case "kein" can be substituted by either "nicht ein" or "nicht" without changing the meaning of the sentence, while the opposite is not necessarily true (i.e. "nicht" and "nicht ein" cannot always be replaced by "kein"). You can change the connotation and implications of the sentence by intonation and stress though (and thus, in a way, the "meaning" of the sentence). Your link actually doesn't claim anything different, although it may not state things very clearly.

However, in order to avoid possible confusion and possibly also because "kein" is much shorter than "nicht ein" or even "nicht eines" etc., "kein" is often used where it is possible and appropriate.

May 31, 2014

Here are some examples

kein as the (not a) article

Ich bin keine Frau. I am no woman. I am not a woman.

The long version "nicht eine" instead of "keine" can shift the emphasis to "nicht" or to "eine", which can also be a numbering word as "one".

Ich bin nicht eine Frau. I am NOT a woman. I am not ONE woman.

When "Kein" stands without a noun, it turns into a pronoun and always gets an ending: -e -er -es -em or -en

Es war keiner da. Nobody was there.

This general "keiner" can be substituted by niemand.

Es war niemand da. Nobody was there.

Es war keine da. None (of the females) was there. (Here niemand wouldn't do.)

May 31, 2014

Yeah I maybe used a bit too strong words there, but I don't really agree on how you put it either.

You make it sound as "nicht ein" would be the default way to do it, but "kein" is just shorter, so people tend to prefer it. I would argue the other way: wherever you can use "kein", use it, unless there is a reason to do otherwise.

If you go and replace every "kein" in a text to "nicht ein" and send it to a German teacher, you would have a lot or red markings there ;) Not always because it would be totally wrong, but because it would be more natural to have "kein" there.

I was always marked wrong of writing "nicht ein" unless I was negating with the "nicht" the verb or a numeral (or in some other rare cases where you actually need it). When negating the verb, it can be of course rather ambigious (Das ist nicht ein Auto (nicht negates sein) vs. Das ist kein Auto)

At least that is how I was taught. And that is how it is still taught to the foreigners:

May 31, 2014

It wasn't my intention to state that "nicht ein" is the default, just that it is not wrong. And I did say that I think that "kein" is often used because it avoids confusion, and I just mentioned the shortness of "kein" because I think it might have contributed as well (because I noticed that sometimes in German shorter variants of unrelated words or certain constructions seem to be more common when there is otherwise no big difference). Maybe I should not have used the word "probably" there. I agree that kein is in many cases to be preferred, but i didn't mean to imply otherwise.

It may be that your teacher was trying to use those markings to teach you (what he considered to be) "good" German or for some other pedagogical reason. The books might teach it as if "kein" was the only correct way in some contexts to avoid confusion and lengthy explanations. However, let me state again that it is definitely not wrong (grammatically, semantically, or otherwise) to use "nicht ein" or "nicht" in place of "kein". It is just that often "kein" is the better choice.

The problem with "nicht ein" is not that it is wrong (because it isn't), but that it can be ambiguous, i.e. it can mean either of "no" ("kein"), "not one", and sometimes "not a single (one)". And often the only way to decide what is meant is by context or by intonation. That is the reason why "kein" is used so often, but there may be situations in which people use "nicht ein" instead (sometimes because it is more appropriate to do so, sometimes because they want to change the tone or connotations of the sentence, and sometimes maybe just because they feel like it and they could have just as well used "kein").

May 31, 2014

Nicht ein is also totally unidiomatic unless you stress either nicht or ein. I think it's not completely wrong to think of kein as an obligatory contraction of nicht ein [both words unstressed].

Nicht ein probably was once normal German even when unstressed, but nowadays it's totally unusual. Apart from mistakes by non-native speakers I think I have only ever heard it in antiquated texts such as church songs. (I can only think of the following right now: "Er ist doch nicht ein Sünder // wie wir und unsre Kinder." And even here we could argue it's another special case similar to the one when one of the words is stressed.)

May 31, 2014

Well said :) Thanks :)

May 31, 2014


What about sentences in which the focus lies simply on the negation? I have the feeling that e.g. as an answer to a yes/no question, or when denying a statement, using "nicht ein" is comparatively more appropriate. E.g.:

"Hast du ein Auto gekauft?" / "Du hast doch ein Auto gekauft."

— "Nein, ich habe nicht ein Auto gekauft."

Of course, "kein" is still possible, but I think that it would slightly shift the tone away from the negation (although admittedly these type of sentences might often stress the "nicht" even more than by just not using "kein"). On the other hand, if someone was simply to make a statement, I would prefer "kein" more than in these cases, e.g. simply "Ich habe kein Auto gekauft."

Also, in the link EeroK provided, there is the so-called "kontrastierende Verneinung" ("contrasting negation") mentioned. To me, the use of "nicht ein" seems more appropriate to me than "kein" in these negations and the stress lies on whatever word is being contrasted (which can be the "ein", but also another word in the sentence) instead.

By the way, this is what the Duden has to say concerning the origin of "kein": "mittelhochdeutsch kein, vermischt aus: de(c)hein = irgendeiner (althochdeutsch dehein) und älter: ne(c)hein = (auch) nicht einer (althochdeutsch nihein)". So it has indeed something to do with "nicht ein", but it is not just a simple contraction.

May 31, 2014

Thank you very much. I understand now.

May 31, 2014

maybe , I don't know but maybe nicht is masculine ,verfasser (author) ,and kein is feminine, frau (woman)

May 30, 2014

no, there are versions of "kein" for all genders, cases and numbers.

kein Mann, keine Frau, kein Kind.

May 31, 2014


July 1, 2014

But it's not so hard because you should know the indefinite articles anyway:

ein Mann - kein Mann, eine Frau - keine Frau, ein Kind - kein Kind.

July 1, 2014

I know I'm not the original poster but thanks, this helps me too. My thinking had been that nein meant "opposite of yes" and kein meant "none of". I was partially right.

May 31, 2014
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