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  5. Grammar: "niet" and "geen"


Grammar: "niet" and "geen"


In Dutch, you use the words "niet" and "geen" when negating things.


"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.


Here are some exercises that may help you with negation in Dutch:

Return to grammar overview!

July 16, 2014



A trick that I use is that you use "geen" when you can use "no" in english

With the examples that you used:

  • Nee, dat is geen koe.
  • No, that is no cow

  • Hebben jullie boeken? - Nee, we hebben geen boeken. + (Do you have books? - No, we have no books.)

On the other side, you cannot use it for I do no run , or "i no run". Or no me -> "not me".

Am I wrong? English is not my mother tongue , but using this trick (so I am not 100% sure) but that is what it looked like to me.


Your post. Your post right there. This is going to save my life.


I've been using the same trick, and English is my native language. I agree with ywikander that it doesn't always sound the most natural but I haven't run into any problems thinking this way with niet vs. geen. Another way to think about it is that geen focuses on the noun (or lack thereof) while niet focuses on the verb (or lack thereof), if that makes sense.


i like this way better


Just saved my life, just gave you a Lingot, Thanks mate!


Your understanding in English is correct. That said, it would be unusual to say 'we have no books' or 'that is no cow'. 'We don't have any books' or 'that isn't a cow'. Nonetheless, one COULD say it that way and it wouldn't be grossly incorrect like 'I no run' or 'no me'. So basically your logic is sound.


Hi, thanks for your confirmation. And yes, I am aware that those phrases are not the "cleanest English", however I think it is not that unusual to find that kind of expressions in TV series on spoken English, (maybe because it is shorter)


Classic depression-era hit tune: "yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas, today!"


ywikander: I can't agree that sentences like "We've no time", "You've no idea", "That's no problem", or "This is no solution" are at all unusual!


Yes, "no" instead of "not" is definitely used sometimes for emphasis or in set phrases, just not in most sentences.


Not only are these expressions not grossly incorrect, they're not incorrect at all. Here's an example from a political debate that took place between vice presidential candidates more than 20 years ago:

"I knew Jack Kennedy and, let me tell you, you're no Jack Kennedy."

That was one Lloyd Benson speaking to Dan Quayle, who later became VP under George Bush, Sr.

And here's an example of a famous song from a musical depicting life in America during wartime:

"Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today."

Another example: When asked a question which a person doesn't know the answer to, they often reply "I have no idea."


Also common and completely correct: "I have no money", "We have no time for that", "She has no patience", "He's no genius", "It's no crime to disagree", "He gives no money to charity", etc. etc.


This explains the use of "geen" and "niet" very well. Of course it is in Dutch but the examples are rather clear. Extra challenge: there is one spelling error in the document, can you find it?



Ik ziet de man niet.


Thanks! Apparently someone else didn't think so as I got downvoted for that answer. :-)


I just upvoted you. I liked your answer.


That's clarifying!


That makes so much more sense! I have been fighting with geen all morning. Sent you a lingot.


"Geen" is actually not a negater, but it signifies that the amount of the item is zero/no(thing). e.g.: "Ik hebben geen melk" - "I have no milk" - "the amount of milk that I have is nothing"
"Ik hebben geen appels" - "I have no apples" - " the amount of apples that I have is zero".

Though it to some people will sound odd/wrong , you could replace "geen" with "niet" in these sentences, (and then it will technically tie to the verb): "Ik hebben niet melk/appels" - I do not have (any) milk/apples"
and even "Ik hebben niet een appel" - "I do not have an/one apple"
which will then be ambigouos as it, out of context, could mean that either the amount is different from one, or that it is something else than an apple (e.g. an orange), or both.

And similarly "Dat is geen koe"- "That is no cow" - "That is an amount of zero cows" (must then be something else than a cow) and "Das is niet een koe" -"That is not a cow" ( could be TWO cows, or a HORSE)


Yes, the author of this article uses the English verb "negate" incorrectly when discussing geen. I'm unsure what it means to "negate a noun". Deny the general existence of, perhaps? Possibly the author intends to say, "negate a noun phrase".

The modern model of grammar classifies geen as a determiner. Thus, the noun phrase "a cow" becomes "not a cow", and "apples" becomes "no apples", etc. This is neither counting nor negating per se, but is called determining (deciding).

And geen is not simply a quantifier, as suggested above, meaning "none" or "zero". There is already a good Dutch word for the latter, being nul.

In summary, geen serves to determine, rather than to count or negate. Duolingo would benefit by adopting the modern model of grammar and by including a section on Determiners and Quantifiers.


I'm afraid that nobody says "Ik hebben niet een appel". Correct use would be "Ik heb geen appel". If you want to use "niet" the order of the sentence should be changed to "appels heb ik niet". So, you cannot just replace "geen" with "niet" . "Geen" means the absence of something, like "er is geen leven op de maan" It does not mean zero, then you would use "nul". "Het is nul graden" (It's zero degrees)


Interesting points, but you are conjugating the verb wrong. It's "Ik heb", not "Ik hebben".


Very helpful! Dank je!


Thanks so much. I needed this. Have a Lingot.


When negating the sentence 'Het raam is 10 meters hoog', I used niet, which seemed a natural thing to do. However, the exercises pointed that the correct solution is 'Het raam is geen 10 meters hoog."

Is there another rule applying here?


In Dutch you typically use "geen" to negate things with units, whether it be "geen 10 kilo", "geen €5" or "geen twee minuten".

You also don't need to use the plural of the unit. So in your example it should also be "10 meter hoog" not "10 meters hoog".

Hope that helps.


I really wasn't aware of this. Thanks so much, it really clears up the negation to be used in these cases!


The use of geen with units is a surprise, because I'm rather sure this is not done in German. I have a question though about whether or where the units can/should be in the plural. Although you point out that it should be '10 meter hoog' and not '...meters...,' you also gave us the example of 'geen twee minuten,' in which the unit is plural. So my guess is that the unit is not made plural when it directly modifies something (here, hoog), but is plural when it does not. If so, we have a somewhat similar rule in English, but that only applies if the unit expression modifies a noun that it is placed before, not afterwards, as a predicate. Thus:

This building is 10 meters tall. (Plural in predicate.) This is a 10 meter tall building. (Not plural when used adnominally.)

Or perhaps, unlike English, the constraint applies in Dutch even in the predicate?


The use of singular or plural for units of time is a bit tricky in Dutch: the plural is used for 'de' words and the singular for 'het' words

Ik vertrek over 2 minuten: I'll leave in 2 minutes.

Likewise: ... over 2 seconden. ... over 2 weken ... over 2 maanden

but ... over 2 uur ... over 2 jaar

Note that in spoken Dutch, many speakers would say 2 seconde, because of the tendency to drop the final 'n'. But never in writing.


Dank u wel, Ernst. Tricky, indeed.


Um... lost track of conversation admiring those 25s! Very impressive!

  • 1588

The use of geen with units is a surprise, because I'm rather sure this is not done in German.

In German one can say "Das Gebäude ist keine (Dutch: geen) 10 Meter hoch". It means that the building is less than 10 meters tall.

The sentence "Das Gebäude ist nicht (Dutch: niet) 10 Meter hoch" is grammatically correct but sounds strange, because this would mean it is either less than 10 meters, or more than 10 meters, but not exactly 10 meters tall. For example it could be 9.9 m or 10.1 m tall. Usually it doesn't make sense to say something like this.

I wonder if it is the same in Dutch?


Interesting. Rather like English, 'there's no way that building is 10 meters tall' as opposed to simply, 'it's not 10 meters tall.' However, even though my first thought was that my first English expression could only be interpreted to mean that it is clearly less, on reflection, I think it may just be expressing a clear difference from one's expectations, in whichever direction. The second, as in your German sentence with 'nicht' seems more a simple statement of presumably factual deviation from the stated amount, theoretically in either direction, but in context, such statements can often be taken as implying one or the other.


Yes it's the same in dutch


I see now. Dank je wel. :)


Thanks, this seems very similar to German "kein" vs. "nicht." And thank you and the team for creating such a great course. I really like and appreciate the grammar tips you've included within the lessons. Very, very helpful!


I was thinking kein vs nicht as well


Very useful! Thanks for this. I am always kinda struggling when it comes to this.


Understanding when to use "niet" or "geen" was a major difficulty for me until now. Thank you very much for all the explanation, KaiEngle!


This is all very fine and good. What I do not understand is when to use "geen...of" and when to use "noch...noch." Any suggestions for that?


"Noch.. noch" is Dutch for "neither...nor". It is used to summate negations. "Ik eet noch peren, noch appels, noch druiven, noch ..... etc." -> "I eat neither pears, nor apples, nor grapes, nor ... etc." This is barely used anymore and considered old fashioned in everyday speach. However, you might still find it in written text and official speach.

"Geen...of" (literally: "not a...or") is what you will hear people say in conversations "dit is geen stoel of tafel" -> "this is neither a chair, nor a table". The example in the second paragraph would nowadays be translated as "Ik eet geen peren (of) appels of druiven".

There is not a real difference, but mind that chosing either construction does affect a sentence. You could say: "noch de jonges, noch de meisjes zijn blij" -> "neither the boys, nor the girls are happy". But it would become "geen (van de) jongens of meisjes zijn blij" -> "no(ne of) boys or girls are happy". As in English both sentences have a similar meaning, which is slightly changed by using or omitting the articles.



I just came along this question (about 'geen' vs. 'niet een') and I thought about posting a link to this thread, however there is no explanation with regard to the actual question here. I think some explanation on 'geen' \& 'niet een' should be included.

het Gelaarsd Schaap.


Thanks for the exercises that you have linked but the vocabulary is way too hard for a beginner.


I am confused about where "niet" belongs. In the lessons, they put "niet" at the back. I.e. "Ik eet het brood niet." Can we also say, "Ik eet niet het brood"? Which one is correct? Or can they be used interchangeably?


I have the same question. "niet" sometimes is in the middle, others is in the end of the sentence... (?)


I am native Dutch and I'd say both are good. The emphasis changes a bit. I'd normally put "niet" at the end of the sentence. If I put it directly after the verb, I want to continue with an alternative as well: "Ik eet niet het brood, maar wel de kaas." (I don't eat the bread, but I will eat the cheese)


Dank u, Martijn!


Dank u wel, Martijn!


Sooo confused about Dutch negatives. Is geen like never? Is niet like none? Heeeeelp.


"Niet" is more like "not", while "geen" is like "no"/"none".


When does "niet" go at the end of the sentence?


The guy on this video gives a complete explanation on the subject (general rule plus 4 exceptions). https://youtu.be/y63O_J90veg


I had geen idea until I read this post.


Very, very helpful...thank you!


great! very helpful.. thank you very much!


Thanks a million! You deserve 50 Lingots!


so, ik spreek geen nederlands and ik spreek nederlands niet are the same?


Only "Ik spreek geen Nederlands" is correct - or, for that matter, used.


Bedankt! This was very helpful


Regarding the examples above, could you say: "Ik niet altijd eet vis" rather than "Ik eet niet altijd vis" for "I do not always eat fish"...Or "Ik heb niet gezien hem gisteren" instead of "Ik heb hem gisteren niet gezien"? I'm confused because there seem to be so many different ways to say 1 sentence.


I'm not a native Dutch speaker, but I am pretty sure that both of the alternate sentences you proposed are grammatically incorrect. For the first, "Ik niet altijd eet vis" is incorrect because you can't separate the subject from the conjugated verb. For the second, "Ik heb niet gezien hem gisteren" is incorrect because in compound tenses, as well as constructions with more than one verb, every verb after the first goes at the very end of the clause. I think there are also rules about where time modifiers ("gisteren") have to go, but I don't know them. This link is helpful: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/3733010. If any native Dutch speakers want to add or correct me, please do. Hope this was helpful!


I am dutch and would always say "Ik eet niet altijd vis" (Subject, verb, time, object) or maybe in an exceptional situation "Niet altijd eet ik vis", (time, verb, subject, object) which has to do with the location of the verb and emphasizes the time. Indeed "Ik niet altijd eet vis" would not be correct, though the meaning would be clear.

"Ik heb niet gezien hem gisteren" would never be used, but I must admit that I don't know why or the grammar rules behind it. The only reason I can think of, is that dutch people like to split the verbs (heb gezien) from each other. "Ik heb hem niet gezien gisteren", "Gisteren heb ik hem niet gezien" and "Ik heb hem gisteren niet gezien" are all very common.


Just to clarify the second example; Ik heb hem niet gezien, first of all the second verb (gezien) has to go to the end of the sentence, that's a rule. Second, there's a rule that says that niet comes after a direct object in a sentence. Hem is a specific person and thus a direct object in our example. Ik heb de man niet gezien vs ik heb geen man gezien if the man is not specific. Hope that helps, succes allemaal!


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

In other words, there is no failsafe rule, only guidelines. And therefore, like the choice of article (het vs. de), must be set to memory for each situation.


As far as "geen" vs. "niet", what about: I have no books now, and I don't have the books today, "Ik hab geen boeken nu, en ik heb niet de boeken vandaag". Does this work?


If you remove the small typo (hab -> heb) it would be absolutely correct.

To me it feels a bit more common to say: "Ik heb nu geen boeken en ik heb de boeken vandaag niet." but that just has to do with the point you like to emphasize and the context.


Great! This is exactly what I was hoping my thinking was based on; use niet to negate verbs/actions, and use "geen" to negate adjectives/nouns... does that sound right?


What if I want to negate a verb in a sentence where there is a description of time/place? For example, if I want to negate the verb 'ga' in the sentence 'Ik ga naar de markt' (i.e. I am not going to the market and I'm not going anywhere), should I place 'niet' after 'naar de markt'?


You should place it after 'gaan': "Ik ga niet naar de markt".


Thank you so much for the explanation. I loved the exercises.


I have a book that says "Nee, ik weet de weg niet.". In your examples, I see "Nee, hij was niet de burgemeester.". What is the difference? Which is right? Are both possible?


Both are correct. The placement of niet can be a bit difficult, as you can see in tips. ;)


Both are correct. But also correct would be "Nee, ik weet niet de weg". There's no difference and there is not really a difference in emphasise.


Thank you, this is really helpful! I'm still very much a beginner in Dutch and so far I think I gave an idea of when each is applicable, but this may save my butt in future!


Thanks for the explanation!


Oh, so it's just like how we use "kein" and "nicht" in german, nice!



Also, ty for this! I'm finally learning Dutch. :D


Does anyone know why the sentence “de kinderen eten rijst niet” is wrong?

I suppose rice is an uncountable plural, which would mean “de kinderen eten geen rijst” would be better

But then how come the app has me say “hij eet het brood niet”?

What’s the difference? Is it because one is talking about a group of people and the second one is about one male?


In the explanation above:


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

To use your example: De kinderen eten geen rijst.


Ah thank you for explaining. I see the difference now.

One is "rice" and the other is "the bread". That makes sense.


I don't understand, when I was training on Duolingo it asked me to translate "I do not speak English", and I responded "Ik spreek Engels niet", but it said it was incorrect and I should have used "geen".

Later, it asked to translate "The man does not have the menu", and I said "De man heeft geen menu", but again Duolingo told me I should have used "niet".

Following what you said, I was correct in both cases, because I used "geen" before a noun, and "niet" when there was no noun... You said that "geen" should be used before a noun normally preceded by "een", so maybe the one with the menu was wrong because menu is preceded by "het"... But it sounds really strange, at least to me, so I would like to be sure. For the other one, maybe Engels is considerred a noun? It's hard for me, I'm French and in my language we have a difference between normal nouns and "noms propres", as we call them. It's basically every noun that has a capital letter, so every name for example is a "nom propre". So I guess in Dutch there's no difference?

I'm just trying to understand my mistakes, this negative form is really confusing to me, since Duolingo only give us exercises without explanations (or if it does I didn't see them xD)


Salut, Edahel.

Regarding the use of niet and geen with nouns, I find it useful to distinguish between definite (DEF) and indefinite (IND) nouns. Look at these examples:

DEF: I do not have the book ............ Ik heb het boek niet

DEF: I do not have the books .......... Ik heb de boeken niet

IND: I do not have a book (I have no book) ................... Ik heb geen boek

IND: I do not have any books (I have no books) ...... Ik heb geen boeken

And here's another example of the contrast:

DEF: That is not the answer ......................................... Dat is niet het antwoord IND: That is not an answer (That is no answer) ......... Dat is geen antwoord

So, wherever you could have 'no' (rather than 'not') in English, it's 'geen' in Dutch:

I do not speak English (I speak no English) ...... Ik spreek geen Engels


Just to clear up your other point -- yes, 'Engels' is a noun. The question of proper versus common nouns doesn't really come into it, however. The main thing to observe is that in Dutch the names of languages begin with a capital letter, while in French they don't.

parce que l'anglais est difficile = omdat Engels moeilijk is

parce que l'Anglais est difficile = omdat de Engelsman moeilijk is


Thanks, I think I understood! I'm making less mistakes now, but it's still hard sometimes...

I was wondering, in your last example, why did you say "omdat Engels moeilijk is" and not "omdat Engels is moeilijk" (and same for the other one) ? It sounds strange to me!


Sorry for introducing an unrelated complication there! I chose phrases beginning with "omdat" because I wanted to demonstrate that in Dutch -- unlike in French -- language names (such as "Engels") always begin with a capital letter, no matter what their position in a sentence.

As to the word order of "omdat Engels moeilijk is", that is because this is a subordinate clause (introduced by the subordinating conjunction "omdat"), and in such clauses the verb always comes last. If you haven't come across this phenomenon yet, Duolingo will no doubt be introducing it soon -- but meanwhile here is a short demonstration of how it works:

Louis blijft thuis. Hij is ziek.

Louis blijft thuis omdat hij ziek is.

Louis reste à la maison. Il est malade.

Louis reste à la maison parce qu'il est malade.


Oooh, really interesting! I may see it less soon than I should, I used to train everyday about a year ago, so I had a lot of progress, but I was so busy I totally stopped for a few months. Now I'm re-doing every lessons so I can remember what I learnt before, but of course it's taking time. I sure hope I'll be able to take new lessons soon!


Ok ok, so BASICALLY, you use "geen" when the word is a noun, and "niet" if not?


Im totally lost with geen and niet. Its giving me a headache


This explanation helped me a lot. Thanks.


Thanks for this!


Excellent summary, thanks!


thank you, very helpful!


This really helped. I'm going to the Netherlands soon, and even though I heard they speak English there I thought I'd learn it anyway.


Thank you Dank je wel Very helpful Erg behulpzaam


So why is it that some sentences have niet after the predicative nominative or adjective, such as "Ik heb de olifant niet" or "Je leest de krant niet"?


In Dutch, the objects you mentioned make a phrase with the verb; the whole phrase is negated by adding "niet" in the end.


What do you mean by "make a phrase with the verb"?


Sorry, I don't remember the exact term. I mean that they belong together and form a unit that is negated as a whole. Sleep well!


Thanks for wishing me well.

Do you mean that the words de olifant and de krant form a phrase as a whole together with the verbs and niet?


Almost. I meant that the verbs and the objects, e.g. "heb" + "de olifant", form a unit, and "niet" negates the whole unit directly in front of it.


@VanitaBalf Ah, I see. So it seems that to negate the predicative nominative or adjective, niet should be after the adjective or noun. But if it's the verb that's being negated, especially in sentences with transitive verbs, niet comes after the verb instead of the object, right? (And if it's the object being negated after all, then niet comes after the object?)


What do you mean when you write predicate? In linguistics, that is the main verb of a sentence. Do you mean the object? I cannot think of a sentence where niet would come before the object right now.

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