I can't understand why nicht is positioned in the end of the following sentence:

Er liest das Buch nicht

According to the following site: http://german.about.com/od/grammar/a/The-Position-Of-Nicht.htm

Nicht will usually follow: Adverbs that can be organized chronologically

The problem is - there is no adverb in the presented sentence. 'das Buch' is a noun.

2 Answers 2


In this question, we deal with what information is exactly negated by "nicht".
The information in "Er liest das Buch nicht" is:

  • What is (not) done with the book: it is read
  • What is (not) read: the book

Compare the following examples:

Ex.1: "Er liest das Buch nicht - er hält es in der Hand."
-> He isn't reading the book - he's holding it in his hand.

Here, the "nicht" refers to the act of not reading (the book). Normally, this form is used to just express the verb's inactiveness. So when you say "Der Vogel ist nicht rot", the actual thing that would be happening without the "nicht" is the "being" of the Vogel.

Ex.2: "Er liest nicht das Buch - sondern die Zeitung." -> He isn't reading the book - he's reading a newspaper.

Here, the "nicht" refers to the book (that's not read).

-> Generally, "nicht" appears at the end of a sentence, and whenever it isn't, it refers to other parameters like what the verb applies to or which adjective describes the action. Note the exceptions like compound verbs and others. The site you linked provides very good information.

  • So why is "Ich gehe in den Park nicht" wrong, and why does "Ich gehe nicht in den Park" not imply that I am going elsewhere?
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:34
  • I can't really give you a reason for that, but it seems to me that "in den Park" forces the "nicht" to go before because of it's length. Syntaxes like "Ich schenke dir einen super luxuriösen Wagen nicht" are mostly used for jokes, putting a little delay before the "nicht", so the addressed person thinks he's really getting a car until the very last word negates it. In a serious sentence, "Nicht" would be put before a very long trailing group of words, so we know right away, that the sentence is negated, before hearing the super long string that just describes the car. Hope that makes sence :D
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:45
  • I did but I don't think it's true. "Ich lese das Buch über einen vegetarischen Vampir, der sich in eine sterbliche verliebt, nicht." Lengths doesn't matter. I really have issues with the common explanations that are out there on the web (including about.com). They just keep copying each other but they always fail at these kind of questions, which are by no means contrived examples. I can give you millions of sentences like that. No offense, I just don't think that really explains what is happening.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:49
  • The part "der sich in eine sterbliche verliebt" is an insertion, which doesn't affect the syntax of the main sentence dramatically, as it is treated as one element. My theory is not at all based on resources other than my brain, though...
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:56
  • Even without that side-sentence it is still longer than the park-part. Trust me. I have done some thinking about this and length is not an issue here.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 20:13

The common explanation you can find in books is that we're looking at a Satznegation" (whole sentence negation) as opposed to a "Satzteilnegation" (part of sentence negation).
I don't find that particularly helpful. Nor does it mirror the underlying structures. So here's my somewhat unorthodox explanation.

The fundamental rule of negation is that "nicht" is right in front of what it negates. In your sentence it seems to be in front of nothing. But that is misleading because the V2-sentence is NOT the usual order of things. In linguistics sentences are transformed to V-final before analyzing the structure because only then does it really show.

..., dass ich das Buch nicht lese.

Now we can see, that "nicht" negates the "lesen".

..., dass ich nicht das Buch lese.

Here, the "nicht" negates the book.

... ,dass nicht ich das Buch lesen.

and here it negates me. The "nicht" in your example is at the end because the verb was moved forward. However, as soon as we change it to past tense, the "nicht" will not be at the end anymore.

Ich habe das Buch nicht gelesen.

  • 1
    This is the third time I am reading you answer but I still can't understand it (I am not saying it's wrong).
    – Inter Sys
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 13:22
  • I'd love to help out. Let me know what you're having trouble with and I'll try to rephrase
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 20:10

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