These three sentences are taken from German learning books.

  1. Ich esse gern Gemüse.
  2. Ich esse nicht gern Gemüse.
  3. Ich mag Gemüse nicht (so) gern.

Why is "nicht gern" placed right after the verb in "2" but after the object in "3"? Can "nicht gern" be placed either side of the object interchangeably? And what about "1"?

  1. Ich esse Gemüse gern.
  2. Ich esse Gemüse nicht gern.
  3. Ich mag nicht (so) gern Gemüse.

Do they sound natural?


2 Answers 2


Think differently: It's not about placing gern "on either side" of the object, the basic rule is that adverbs that modify other parts of the sentence ("nicht", "auch", ...) are placed directly in front of the part they modify. So in "... gern Gemüse", gern applies specifically to Gemüse.

This is also true if an adverb modifies a verb. However, in a main clause, the verb must be in second position, so you can't place an adverb directly in front of the verb. Instead, the adverb is placed at the very end, just like infinitives and participles that extend the verb. You can see this when you switch to a subclause, or when you introduce an auxiliary: Then the adverb can again be placed in front of the verb.

So the relationships are:

Ich esse (nicht) gern Gemüse -> ..., weil ich (nicht) gern Gemüse esse.
Ich esse Gemüse (nicht) gern -> ..., weil ich Gemüse (nicht) gern esse.
Ich mag Gemüse (nicht) gern -> ..., weil ich Gemüse (nicht) gern mag.

So in the first example, the nuance is that it's the vegetables you're not really fond of, and in the two other examples, the whole action is qualified. Of course you can use "nicht so" instead of "nicht" everywhere.

As with any parts of the sentence, you can also move the adverb to the front, where it is (rather strongly, in this case) emphasized:

(So) Gern mag ich Gemüse nicht.
Nicht (so) gern mag ich Gemüse.

So that is also correct.

  • I really like this explanation, thanks! However, I am still struggling to understand what it means (semantically) that gern applies specifically to Gemüse like you said for the first one, instead of applying to the entire action of eating vegetables.
    – fersarr
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 16:44
  • @fersarr The emphasis is different, though it doesn't make a lot of difference in this particular example. A bit constructed: "..., weil ich nicht gern Gemüse esse, aber gern Obst esse" and "..., weil ich Gemüse nicht gern esse, aber es gern als Gemüsesaft trinke".
    – dirkt
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 17:19

All of your examples should be correct.

There are different ways you can build your sentence in German. But don't ask me about the grammar rules.

You could also say:

  1. Gemüse esse ich gern.
  2. Gemüse esse ich nicht gern.
  3. Gemüse mag ich nicht (so) gern.

or in the right context even:

  1. Gern esse ich Gemüse.
  2. Gern esse ich Gemüse nicht.
  3. (So) Gern mag ich Gemüse nicht.

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