Negating with Kein
In English, sentences can be negated by inserting the negative adverb not after the first auxiliary verb or do operator of the verb phrase
functioning as the predicate or by inserting the negative quantifier no into a noun phrase.
In German, sentences can similarly be negated by inserting the negative adverb nicht into German sentences or by inserting the indefinite article kein into a noun phrase. However, whereas English prefers sentence negation through the use of the adverb not, German prefers negation through the use of the indefinite article kein.
Just as in English, the German language contains a category of words called articles that include both definite and indefinite articles. The articles in English are:
- Definite Article – the
- Indefinite Article – a, an
The German equivalents in the nominative case of the English articles are:
- Definite Article – der, das, die
- Indefinite Article – ein, eine
The German articles are used similarly to English articles specific (definite) nouns or general (indefinite) nouns. However, the German language also contains a third article, the indefinite article kein.
The Indefinite Article Kein
In additional to the German articles that translate to the English articles the and a/an, German also contains the indefinite article kein.
Roughly translating to the quantifiers no, not a(n), or not any in English, the indefinite article kein is used similarly to the other German articles to provide additional information about a noun. Like other articles as well as nouns, pronouns, and adjectives in German, the ending of kein changes to reflect both the grammatical gender and the grammatical case of its noun. The following chart shows the forms of kein in the nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive cases for masculine, neuter, feminine, and plural nouns.
Examples of German Negation With Kein
Although sentences in German can be negated through verb phrase negation with the adverb nicht, German prefers that sentences be negated through the use of the negative indefinite article kein. The indefinite article kein can be used anywhere the other German articles are used. For example, the following pairs of sentences are examples of positive and negated sentences in German in which kein negates a noun:
Es gibt Wolken im Himmel. “There are clouds in the sky.” (positive)
Es gibt keine Wolken im Himmel. “There are no clouds in the sky.” OR “There are not any clouds in the sky.” (negated)
Ich werde Zeit für Kunstmuseen haben. “I will have time for art museums.” (positive)
Ich werde keine Zeit für Kunstmuseen haben. “I will have no time for art museums.” OR “I will not have time for art museums.” (negated)
Die Kinder möchten heute Frühstück. “The children would like breakfast today.” (positive)
Die Kinder möchten heute kein Frühstück. “The children would like no breakfast today.” OR “The children would not like breakfast today.” (negated)
The indefinite article kein can also be used to negate nouns that are described by adjectives. For example, the following pairs of sentences are examples of positive and negated German sentences in which kein negates nouns modified by adjectives:
Es gibt gute Milch im Kühlschrank. “There is good milk in the refrigerator.” (positive)
Es gibt keine gute Milch im Kühlschrank. “There is no good milk in the refrigerator.” OR “There is not any good milk in the refrigerator.” (negated)
Haben Sie rote Kulis? “Do you have red pens?” (positive)
Haben Sie keine drei rote Kulis? “Do you have no red pens?” OR “Do you not have any red pens?” (negative)
Der Welpe aß das rohe Fleisch. “The puppy ate the raw meat.” (positive)
Der Welpe aß kein rohes Fleisch. “The puppy ate no raw meat.” OR “The puppy did not eat the raw meat.” (negated)
Remember that the ending of kein must match the gender and case of its noun.
Kein or Nicht for German Negation?
English-speaking German students often have trouble deciding when to use kein and when to use nicht to negate sentences in German. In English, the use of the adverb not (or nicht in German) is preferred to negate sentences. However, in German, the use of the indefinite article kein (or no in English) is preferred for negation. Therefore, the German students should follow the following rule for sentence negation in German: “If a noun can be negated with the indefinite article kein, then kein should be used instead of nicht to negate the sentence.”
For more information on the use of the adverb nicht for German sentence negation, please refer to Teaching First Year German Students to Negate Sentences with Nicht.