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The only time I've ever seen Germans say nein is in the movies or in textbooks. I've also heard a politician say nein when she wanted to make a strong stand again a comment. I'm guessing nein is more forceful and formal language than nee, which seems to be slang.

So I'm guessing if I don't want my language to seem weird I should use nee to negate a sentence and not nein, especially with younger people and in casual settings like a bar. Or is my impression wrong?

22

If you want to learn German, then you learn standard German, which will be understood in all countries where German is spoken. But »nee« is not a standard-German word. It is a dialect word. »Nee« is part of many dialects, spoken mainly in mid and northern parts of Germany. But there are also German dialects, where »nein« is another word:

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See also here.

If you really want to learn one of the many German dialects, you better should learn standard German before. So do not replace »nein« by »nee«. Everybody will understand you if you say »nein«. And even if you say »nee« in a region where people use this word: Nobody will believe, that you really speak the local dialect as long as you have any non-German accent.

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    Sidenote, perhaps a tad off-topic. Nee (pronounced nay) is the Dutch translation of nein. It would not surprise me if this has had influence on the dialect's regional spread. – Stephan Bijzitter Jan 10 '16 at 0:02
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    I never thought of nee and excluding each other. Then there’s or ne, a less emphatic variant with short vowel. – Crissov Jan 11 '16 at 22:52
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    @StephanBijzitter The distribution of nee is very similar to the distribution of Low German (closely related to Dutch) and Central German dialects. nee is nein in Low German. – Roland Jan 14 '16 at 15:10
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    In general, nee is not a dialect word but a colloquial word. Otherwise, I wholeheartedly agree. – Jan Jan 19 '16 at 14:08
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    Beware of "noh": it is used in Thüringen (see e. g. juma-thueringen.de/2014/11/erfurt-noh) and means "yes", even though it looks and sounds just like another variant of nein/nee/naa/noi/... same for "nu" in Sachsen (sachsenwelt.de/sachsen/mundart/woerterbuch-a.html#N) – Raketenolli Apr 21 '17 at 11:29
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“Nee” is not slang, it's simply dialect. This form of “nein” occurs in more than one, but definitely not in all German dialects.

I am from Berlin, and even though I do not speak a real Berlin dialect, saying “nee” is one of these things that happen when I speak sloppily, but not in all instances, so I say “nein” often enough and would not find it in any way strange if someone else uses it, especially not if German is not that person's first language.

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    »This form of “nein” occurs in more than one, but definitely not in all German dialects.« Correct. In Bavaria and Austria it is »Naa« (long a). But you can also hear »nee« in those regions, especially among young urban people. – Hubert Schölnast Jan 9 '16 at 20:07
  • @HubertSchölnast, interesting, I had not noticed the use of “nee” when I was in the south. It probably seemed to natural for me to notice. – Carsten S Jan 9 '16 at 20:23
  • The group of people using »nee« in Austria is small, but it exists. You find them among people under the age of 20/25. – Hubert Schölnast Jan 9 '16 at 20:31
1

I would have said "nee", but it has to be 30 characters, so:

No, there is no difference. only that "nee" is slightly more slang. You wouldn't use it in an official paper.

While others have stated it is dialect, I personally would say that saying "nee" is acceptable and will be understood in every German-speaking region, it may just not be the most common way of abbreviating "nein".

  • Only because it's kind of a pun, I'm not going to vote for deleting this answer. Other than that, it doesn't add anything which hasn't already been said. – Em1 Jan 11 '16 at 14:42
1

My mother is from Lübeck. Nee is used when correcting a thought or speech the way Americans say, “bring me one, no, two beers” or if someone says something and you are correcting them. Nein is used if you want something or did something or against an action “I want to go somewhere” Nein!

Nein is final, while nee is arguable.

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    I cannot agree with your perceived difference. I have heard both nee and nein in all contexts. However, I cannot rule out that what you describe is specific to just Lübeck (where I haven’t spent enough time with locals to know). – Jan Sep 27 '17 at 11:50
  • I think this is less of a hard rule and more of a correlation. When people want to sound final, they tend to use more formal language (to show that they are serious) compared to when they are just joking or speaking their thoughts out loud. Similar to the usage of nicknames vs. full names. – Annatar Sep 27 '17 at 12:04
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I speak little German and understand far less spoken German but I did spend a few months in Koblenz. I almost immediately adopted "nee" because it just sounded so much more polite after hearing it a few times.

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I usually use "nein" only if I want to make sure the other person gets the answer right (and there is not much context, mimic and gesture involved). Any situation in which a misunderstanding would force the person to ask again. E.g. at the city administration or at the counter of the supermarket when people have to ask me if I have a paypack card.

  • I'm curious: In which situations don't you want to make sure the other person gets the answer right? Why do you even answer in such cases? – Robert Apr 19 '17 at 17:22
  • Well if the context, the gesture, the mimic already say "no" very clearly, it's not so important that the word that come out of my mouth has to be understood. Anything with an "n" would be enought. – Harald Ernst Apr 21 '17 at 12:57
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I am native German (with Swabian / south-western-German dialect). Usually I use several forms of saying "no": "Nein, danke" when declining an offer, but in general I am switching between "Nö", "Nee", "Nein" or "Noi" unconsiuosly depending on mood and situation, whereas the latter "Noi" I may mostly use when I am among other Swabians.

I think that all of these variants are generally understood by Germans, but when talking to someone from an other region of Germany, the Swabian "Noi" might be considered as inappropriate - like "He is so uneducated, he can't get over his rural dialect".

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