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NICHT vs KEIN – What is the difference?

In this article, I will not only explain the main differences between the German words “kein” and “nicht” and where to place them in a sentence, but I will also explain how the word ending of “kein” changes in the different cases.

Both German words are used to negate a sentence, but they should not be confused with one another.

NICHT vs KEIN

The main difference between nicht and kein

The biggest difference between nicht and kein is that ‘kein’ is used to negate German nouns while ‘nicht’ is used to negate verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

How to use the word kein in German

OK, let’s start with the German word kein because I think it is less complicated.

It can be translated as “not a/an” or just “no” in English and it is only used to negate nouns.

You should remember that it always comes before the noun, never after the noun!

Here are two examples that make it much easier to understand:

Mein Hund hat kein Konto bei der Bank. Er vergräbt sein Geld lieber im Garten! 
My dog does not have a bank account. He prefers to bury his money in the garden!

Der Papagei hat keine eigene Meinung, er plappert nur alles nach. 
The parrot has no opinion of its own, it just parrots everything.

Did you notice that I used keine in the second example and not kein?

“Kein” varies according to the gender, number, and case of the noun. I’ll give you many examples of this, further down the page.

But now let me explain the German word ‘nicht’ so that you better understand the difference between nicht and kein.

How to use the word nicht in German

The German word nicht also translates to “not” but we don’t use it to negate nouns.

We use nicht to negate verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Tip:

Before I dive deep, deep into this topic, please note that there is a much easier way to learn German, especially the really complicated German grammar.

 

If you don’t want to learn the following rules by heart, you can just listen to my fun German audio stories and get a feel for the correct grammar and the use of the words “kein” and “nicht” and where they are placed in the sentence.

 

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Here are some basic rules for placing “nicht” in a sentence

OK, let’s dive deep into the different positions of the word “nicht” in a sentence.

The position of “nicht” in a sentence depends on the sentence structure.

Here, too, I will best give you examples so that you can understand it much better.

In main clauses

In main clauses – “nicht” is usually placed after the conjugated verb and before the object or other parts of the sentence. 

Ich esse nicht gern Gemüse.
I don’t like eating vegetables.

Er spielt nicht Fußball.
He doesn’t play soccer.

In sentences with modal verbs

In sentences with modal verbs or infinitive constructions – “nicht” is placed before the infinitive.

Ich kann nicht schwimmen.
I can’t swim.

Sie möchte nicht ausgehen.
She doesn’t want to go out.

In sentences with separable verbs

In sentences with separable verbs – “nicht” is placed between the separated parts of the verb.

Ich stehe nicht gern früh auf.
I don’t like getting up early.

In sentences with auxiliary verbs

In sentences with auxiliary verbs like “haben” or “sein” in the perfect, past perfect, or future perfect tense, “nicht” is placed before the past participle.

Ich habe nicht geschlafen.
I didn’t sleep.

Er wird das Buch nicht gelesen haben.
He won’t have read the book.

There are some exceptions and variations in German, depending on emphasis and the context. However, these rules should help you a little to determine the correct placement of “nicht” in most cases.

Examples of the German word kein in different cases

As I have explained above the German word “kein” is mainly used to negate nouns in German.

It’s placed before the noun it negates and should agree in gender, number, and case.

Have a closer look and you will see that the endings of the word “kein” adapt to the gender, number, and case of the noun.

Nominativ

kein (maskulin):
kein Hund
(no dog)

keine (feminin):
keine Katze
(no cat)

kein (neutrum):
kein Haus
(no house)

keine (plural):
keine Bäume
(no trees)

Akkusativ

keinen (maskulin):
Ich sehe keinen Hund.
(I don’t see a dog)

keine (feminin):
Ich habe keine Katze.
(I don’t have a cat)

kein (neutrum):
Er kauft kein Auto.
(He doesn’t buy a car)

keine (plural):
Sie mag keine Bücher.
(She doesn’t like any books)

Dativ

keinem (maskulin):
Ich gebe keinem Straßenhund Futter.
(I don’t feed street dogs)

keiner (feminin):
Wir sollten keiner Lehrerin die Schuld geben
(We shouldn’t blame any teacher)

keinem (neutrum):
Er folgt keinem Trend.
(He doesn’t follow any trend)

keinen (plural):
Keinen Kindern im Park sollte man ohne Erlaubnis der Eltern Eis anbieten.
(You should not offer ice cream to any children in the park without their parents’ permission)

Genitiv

Although we would rarely use this sentence construction, here are a few examples.

keines (maskulin):
Das ist keines Lehrers Verantwortung.
(This is not the responsibility of any teacher)

keiner (feminin):
Das ist keiner Mutter Aufgabe.
(This is not any mother’s task)

keines (neutrum):
Das ist keines Kindes Schuld.
(This is not any child’s fault)

keiner (plural):
Sie unterstützen keiner Parteien Programme.
(They don’t support any parties’ programs)

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