Consider the statement: "Ich spreche kein Deutsch." I enquired as to why kein was used, not 'nicht'.I was told that nicht is a temporary no, while kein deals with longer time periods. As in, "Ich trinken nicht Wasser". I understood the above explanation as I'm not drinking water NOW.

The next sentence in the exercise was "Wir trinken keinen Wein". The answer provided was "We're not drinking wine now." Is the answer correct? Was the explanation provided incorrect?

  • 2
    The explanations you have encountered are not correct, and "Wir trinken keinen Wein" definitely does not have this special, short-term meaning. It's what people in beer-brewing regions say to express that they never drink wine. For the real difference, see the two top answers to the other question linked by Gerhard. Basically the idea is that nicht ein negates just the word ein (so is rarely used), and kein negates a noun with indefinite article. But we often negate the object of a transitive verb with kein instead of negating the verb. I guess this is what makes it so confusing.
    – user2183
    Nov 28, 2015 at 12:12

1 Answer 1


This quote is from the following page: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Wortstellung/nicht.html

Use "kein" if what you are negating is

a noun preceded by ein/eine
a noun not preceded by any article

Use "nicht" if what you are negating is
a noun preceded by "der/das/die."
a noun preceded by a "possessive adjective" (e.g. "mein," "dein," etc.)
a proper noun (i.e. a name, usually following "sein" or "heißen")

Or more generally speaking, use "kein" when something is rather undetermined (uncountable nouns, indefinite article) and "nicht" for more determined things (definite article, possessive pronouns).

"Kein"/"nicht" does not imply any difference in terms of length of time.

Wir trinken keinen Wein.

can mean both that you do not drink wine in general (which is what I would have thought of first), or that you do not want to drink wine e.g. tonight. For the latter, you would usually add the time span, though.

Wir trinken heute abend keinen Wein.

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