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Negation

Part II

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In this article we continue with our German Negation series. So far in Negation I, we have discussed the difference between nicht and kein, when to use nicht + sondern and when kein + sondern. We are now going to look at other words that express negation in German.


  1. Other "N" Negation Words
    These other n-words are: niemand (pronoun, nobody/no one), nichts (pronoun, nothing), niemals (adv., never), nie (adv., never)and nirgendwo (adv., nowhere).

    You will always find a lot of jokes and play on words with these and other German negation words. Consider the following over the top sentences:

    Wenn niemand niemals nirgendswo hingeht, dann kann keiner niemanden treffen, nicht wahr? Keine Sorgen! Dies wird nie geschehen.

    Translation: If nobody never goes anywhere, then no one could meet anybody, is that not so? No worries! This will never happen.

    No worries really, if feeling a little dazed after reading that, because the good news is that negation words such as niemand, niemals, nie, nichts, nirgendwo follow the same rules as other words of their grammatical type, with hardly any exceptions.

    • Word placement

      Nichts and Niemand: As indefinite pronouns, these words can replace either a subject or object:

      Niemand hat mich heute gesehen. (Nobody saw me today.)
      Ich will mit niemanden spielen. (I don't want to play with anybody.)
      Nichts schmeckt gut. (Nothing tastes good.)
      Er will nichts essen. (He doesn't want to eat anything.)

      Nichts remains non-declinable, whereas niemand is declinable. (See next section.)

      Niemals, nie and nirgendwo: These adverbs can stand alone, be placed before a verb, or be placed at the end of a phrase.

      Hast du jemals geraucht? (Have you ever smoked?)
      Nie. (Never.)
      Er hat mich nie angerufen. (He never called me.)

      The word order of this negated sentence allows for a contrasting negation with sondern: Er hat mich nie angerufen, sondern immer besucht. (He never called me, he always visited me.)
      Otherwise, these negation words are often placed at or near the end of the sentence:

      Er ruft mich nie an. (He never calls me.)
      Sie besucht mich niemals. (She never visits me.)

      To emphasize the negation, the negation adverb can be placed at the front of the sentence:

      Nie hat er mich angerufen! (Never has he called me!)
      Nirgendwo ist es sicher! (Nowhere is it safe!)


    • Declination

      Nichts is an undeclinable pronoun. On the other hand niemand is declinable, but increasingly not declined. According to the Duden, it is now correct to also leave the word niemand undeclined.

      For Example:
      Er hat heute niemand gesehen. (He saw no one today.)
      Er hat heute niemanden gesehen.

      Both ways are acceptable.
      To those of you who want to hold on to the declination of niemand, here is its declination. Take note that niemand is a singular word that doesn’t have a plural.

      Nominative: niemand
      Genitive: niemandes
      Dative: niemandem
      Accusative: niemanden


  2. Difference between nicht and nichts

    Nichts is not the plural of nicht or a declination thereof! They have two separate meanings: Nicht (adv.) -> not; nichts (pron.)-> nothing. Therefore they can not be interchanged.


  3. Nirgendwo

    You will often hear and read many related words and substitutes for nirgendwo. Likewise, you will also often hear and read opinions over which related words are actually correct. Here’s the breakdown:

    Substitutes:nirgends, nirgendswo
    Related: nirgendwohin/nirgendhin/nirgendshin, nirgendwoher/nirgendher/nirgendsher.
    Wrong: Nirgendswohin, nirgendswoher


  4. Negation Word Opposites

    It is important to know the opposites of German negation words, so as to know how to reply to questions involving such words. Some words such as niemand can have several opposite negation words (jemand (somebody), irgendjemand/ irgendwer (anybody) ) each one changing slightly the meaning of the sentence. See table below. (For a more complete table with more negation words, see Negation Word Opposite’s Table.)

                    Negation and Affirmative Words
PositiveNegativeExample
Timejemals, oft, manchmal,immer nie, niemalsHast du jemals Deutschland besucht? (Have you ever visited Germany?)
Ich habe noch nie Deutschland besucht. (I've never visited Germany.)
Placeirgendwo nirgendwoIrgendwo in meiner Wohnung, muss mein Reisepass sein. (Somewhere in my apartment, must be my passport.)
Ich kann ihn aber nirgendwo finden! (But I can't find it anywhere!)
Direction irgendwohinnirgendwohinGehst du morgen irgendwohin?(Are you going somewhere tomorrow?)
Nee, leider gehe ich morgen nirgendwohin. (No, unfortunately I am not going anywhere tomorrow.)
People jemand, irgendjemand, irgendwer Niemand/Keiner Jemand aus meiner Familie wird mich am Bahnhof treffen. (Somebody from my family will meet me at the train station.)
Niemand/Keiner wird mich am Bahnhof treffen.(Nobody is going to meet me at the train station.)
Non-People etwas, allesnichtsHast du etwas auf dem Flug gegessen? (Did you eat anything on the flight?)
Ich habe nichts auf dem Flug gegessen.(I ate nothing on the flight.)
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