Questions about Commas & Negation

Hi! I'm very confused with the use of commas in German; I can't figure out how to use them correctly. Are there any rules for when to place a certain clause/phrase in the front of the sentence followed by a comma? Does it have something to do with the pronoun?

Example: Ich dachte, du kochst Heute

Translates to: I thought you were cooking today.

In terms of negatives, I'm confused about why in some cases it seems as if the negative clause is placed in the front. Is there a way to identify when that should be done? I would put an example, but I can't find one right now.

Thanks in advance for all answers!

June 30, 2015


You have to use a comma when there is a subordinate clause. For example, the clause that are introduced by wenn, weil, dass.

Example: Ich esse Schokolade, weil ich hungrig bin.

Here you have to use the comma to separate the two sentence. The comma in German is usually use to separate two sentence because otherwise you wouldn't understand very well their meaning.

For the negative sentence, you have to know that there are two ways to form the negation in German: you use 'nicht' or 'kein'. They are not interchangeable.

Nicht is used: - to negate a verb Ex. I don't drink = Ich trinke nicht

  • with adjectives Ex. I am not pretty = Ich bin nicht schön

  • with adverbs Ex. I don't come willingly = Ich komme nicht gern

  • with nouns preceded by determinate articles or possesive adjectives Ex: I don't have the bag = Ich habe die Tasche nicht. I don't have my bag = Ich habe meine Tasche nicht.

Nicht is put before: - the adjective = Ich bin nicht jung (I am not young),

  • the adverb = Ich gehe nicht oft ins Kino (I often don't go to the cinema),

  • the nouns when there is the verb werden (become) or sein (to be) = Ich bin nicht die Mathelehrerin von die Klasse / Philipp wird nicht Präsident der Republik.

  • the complement with preposition = Ich komme nicht aus Deutschland / Ich schreibe nicht mit dem Bleistift

Nicht is put after:

  • the adverbs of time 'heute' (today) and 'morgen' (tomorrow) = Ich komme heute nicht Exception when there is 'sondern' = Ich komme nicht heute, sondern morgen. (I don't come today, but tomorrow)

  • complements without prepositions = Ich lese dieses Buch nicht (I don't read this book) Wir kaufen die Kamera nicht (We don't buy the camera) Ich gebe dir mein Buch nicht (I don't give my book to you) Du hilfst deiner Mutter nicht (You don't help your mother).

'Sondern' = Ich lese nicht dieses Buch, sondern die Zeitung.

Instead kein* is used with:

  • nouns without articles = Ich habe keine Zeit (I don't have time) Ich habe kein Geld (I don't have money) Ich habe keine Freunde (I don't have friends)

  • nouns preceded by indefinite articles = Ich habe keinen Freund (I don't have a friend/ I have no friends) Ich habe keinen Hunger (I am not hungry)

  • The negation 'kein' accords with the noun that follow it in gender and number

Other examples: Ich kaufe den Apfel nicht = I don't buy the apple Ich kaufe keinen Apfle = I buy no apples

Ich sehe keinen Bus = I don't see any bus Ich sehe den Bus nicht = I don't see the bus

Sorry if something is written in a strange (/bad) english. I hope the 'explanation' is understandable

June 30, 2015

Thank you very much for your answer! It is very helpful! And your English is very much in order :)

June 30, 2015

Thanks. I'm glad that my answer helped you ^_^

July 1, 2015

I found an article that might help you on the comma placement. Click here to view it.

There is also another article for negation. It is a series. This one is the first one. This is it

I hope I helped! I you have more questions just ask:)

June 30, 2015

Thank you so much Alec! Your comment helped me immensely!

June 30, 2015

One simple rule to go by is can a part of a sentence stand alone. "Ich dachte" check "Du kochst Heute" check.

Frankly, commas in German are so complex, almost no German knows how to use them "correctly". The Duden lists 132 rules. To me it looks like it could be rule 118.

June 30, 2015

Thank you so much for your answer!

June 30, 2015

I have trouble with this too. If seems the rules in English are a little more open and the differences between learning resources (especially British vs American) can be confusing.

I know some people enjoy putting commas in everywhere, whereas I had a teacher who took the minimalist view and would constantly tell me to omit them. For this reason, I find using commas in English daunting, let alone other languages.

It seems like Germans really love them though. I just find it hard to believe they would really be "so confused" just because a comma wasn't inserted. Many languages don't even have them at all...

July 3, 2015
Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.