Negation: how to a make decline or rejection in German

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Refusal of something is not quite a big deal as everyone has a choice to make even though it may sometimes be offensive to the one with high expectations of having their goal met. In German, making a negative remark can be expressed in various ways such as;

  1. By saying “nein” to a request
  2. Using the negation articles (kein, keine, keinen etc.)
  3. The use of the preposition “zu”
  4. The use of “nicht”

Nein which is the English translation for “NO” is basically used in response to a tag question. For example:

1. Q— Are you coming home?—— kommst du nach Hause?
   A— No,(I am not coming).—— Nein,(ich komme nicht).

2. is someone there?—— ist jemand da?
   Yes/No. —— Ja/Nein.

The negation articles are also used to express negative remarks. Unlike “nein” they always require a noun to stand before or for; in which case they are declined as the case of the noun which they are representing in the question. These articles cannot and must never be used as a replacement for “nein” in a tag question.


1.Q—— Do you have some money?—— Hast du etwas Geld?
  A—— Nein, ich habe kein Geld.

2.Q—— Where is your pen?—— wo ist dein Kugelschreiber?
  A—— I don’t have any.—— ich habe keinen.

The preposition ZU” is used to express a negative extreme or a strong dislike of something. Although it is not directly a decline but it sure indicates one as opposed to sehr which is used to indicate pleasure. Zu is more correctly used with a negative adjective instead of nicht and can be used together in one sentence to make a contradiction. For instance; “das Zimmer ist zu klein” which means “the room is too small” is indicative that the observer doesn’t like the room, hence it’s a rejection or disapproval. But “das Zimmer ist nicht zu klein” indicates approval.

More illustrations;

  • Dein Wohnzimmer ist zu dunkel.—— your living room is too dark.
  • Die Haare von der Frau ist zu kurz.—— the hair of the woman ist too short.
  • Warum kommst du immer zu spät?—— why do you always come too late?

NICHT literally means “not” it English but it can also mean “no”. It is only used to negate sentences in German under seven circumstances such as when;

  • Negating a noun with the definite article (der, die, das)
  • Negating a noun with a possessive article
  • Negating a pronoun
  • Negating an adjective
  • Negating an adverb
  • Negating a preposition
  • Negating a verb

When negating the different parts of a sentence listed above with nicht, it is important to have in mind that the position of nicht can vary although its designated position in a German sentence is at the end of the sentence. This extreme position of nicht can be influenced and altered by certain rules which are designed to override that of nicht.

How to position “nicht” in a sentence

The positioning of nicht in a German sentence is technical and varies but has been simplified here in several steps. Regardless, nicht must be placed immediately next to these overriding factors. Place nicht at the end of the sentence except;

  1. The conjugated verb is a separable verb, hence the separable prefix must be at the end of the sentence.
  2. The only verb used in the sentence is an auxiliary, hence must be placed directly after the verb.
  3. There are two or more verbs used in the sentence, hence the other verb(s) must be at the end.
  4. There is a preposition in the sentence, hence it must be placed directly before the preposition.
  5. There is an adjective, hence must be placed directly before the adjective.


  • Ich kann leider nicht kommen.
  • Ich komme nicht.
  • Ich kann morgen nicht zu dir kommen.
  • Der Junge ist nicht da.
  • Ich liebe dich nicht.
  • Ich sehe den Mann nicht.
  • Ich bin nicht deine Freundin.

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