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Niet vs. Geen

Can somebody tell me the difference? I am a little bit confused.

July 16, 2014



A good question my friend.

"geen" is used to negate a noun that, if not negated, would be preceded by "een".

  • Is dat een koe? - Nee, dat is geen koe.
  • (Is that a cow? - No, that is not a cow.)

It can also negate nouns that aren't preceded by any article, like some nouns in the plural and uncountable nouns.

  • Hebben jullie boeken? - Nee, we hebben geen boeken.
    • (Do you have books? - No, we don't have books.)

"niet" is essentially used in all other situations:

  • to negate verbs, thoughts, adjectives and any other sentence elements that aren't nouns:
  • Ik ren niet. - I do not run.
  • Ik niet. - Not me.
  • Hij is niet zo oud. - He is not that old.
  • to negate nouns preceded by a definite article or possessive pronoun:
  • Nee, dat is niet mijn boek. - No, that is not my book.
  • Nee, hij was niet de burgemeester. - No, he was not the mayor.

Where does "niet" go in a sentence?

It depends on what you are negating. If you're trying to negate something particular like an adverb or adjective, then it's best to put "niet" right before it.

  • Mijn rok is niet geel. - My skirt is not yellow.
  • Ik eet niet altijd vis. - I do not always eat fish.

In most other cases, "niet" comes after the "middle part" of the sentence - where you usually have the time, manner and place.

  • Ik heb hem gisteren (time) niet gezien. - I did not see him yesterday.
  • Ik heb door het lawaai (manner) niet kunnen slapen. - I could not sleep due to the noise.

Put "niet" here, and you will likely be right.

Despite the "place" usually being in the middle part of a sentence, "niet" usually comes before it when it indicates a direction.

  • Wij gaan niet naar huis. - We are not going home.

However, if you put "niet" in front of the time, manner and place, then you are stressing that it was not then that I did it (but later), that it was not there that I did it (but here), or I didn't do it like that (but like this).

  • Hij gaat niet vandaag naar de maan, maar morgen. - He is not going to the moon today, but tomorrow.
  • Wij gaan niet met jullie, maar met hen. - We are not going with you, but with them.


That helps a lot. Thank you!


geen = no and niet = not? Not sure since I only started Dutch an hour ago! :D


That's right. "Geen" is only used as an adjective: "geen appels" = "no apples". The word "niet" is used as an adverb for negations: "ik loop niet" = "I do not walk".

I hope that helps!


Is this the same as how "kein" and "nicht" work in German or are there some differences? The words seem obviously quite similar and your explanation is also true in German, but the grammar could still be somewhat different in principle.


Actually, they do (effectively) work the same, as far as I know. So, if you have knowledge of german that should cetainly help! So kein=geen and nicht=niet

Edit: the difference is that in dutch you dont really need to change the adjective depending on the sentence. So there is no 'keines' or 'keinem' or 'keine' version of 'geen'. It is always just 'geen.'

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