Kein or Nicht? What’s the difference?

Kein and Nicht?

One of the first confusions you will encounter when learning the German language is: What’s the difference between kein and nicht and when should you use them? The problem arises because in English we just have one word that covers both: not. This means you now have to think about the context of the sentence as you say it and think about which German word you need to use. Over time you will instinctively know and you’ll be able to choose the correct word seamlessly.

When to use “nicht”?

Okay, the quick answer is that nicht is used in any situation except in direct relation to a noun, then you use a form of kein. Therefore if it’s to do with actions or situations you should use nicht.

Example sentences:
Ich kann hier nicht parken. ⇨ I can’t park here.
Ich will nicht ins Kino gehen. ⇨ I don’t want to go to the cinema.
Ich habe nicht aufgeräumt. ⇨ I have not cleaned up.
Ich gehe nicht zur Arbeit. ⇨ I’m not going to work.

When to use “kein”?

When you want to use not or no in relation to a noun you should use a form of kein. Simply kein is used in situations where nicht ein would otherwise occur.

Example sentences:
Ich habe kein Sofa. ⇨ I don’t have a sofa.
Ich mag keinen Kaffee. ⇨ I don’t like coffee.
Ich will keine Äpfel. ⇨ I don’t want any apples.
Ich kenne keinen guten Zahnarzt. ⇨ I don’t know any good dentists.

The different forms of kein follow the same rules as ein and are explained in our blog “The indefinite Article in a negative Statement.”

When you first use these it will be confusing, but do not worry, you will pick it up quite quickly and it will soon become instinctive.

Learn and enjoy the German language with Jabbalab! 🙂

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