The position of 'nicht' in a sentence has always been a thing that troubles beginners and not-so-beginners. There are pretty vague rules, online and in the grammar books that I've read, that help you determine the position in most cases. Usually the rule is like, "This is where nicht goes in most cases, but there are exceptions." and I've found that the exception list is usually pretty significant in size. The response to this is, "well, you just have to pick it up as you go along." In general, it's understood that 'nicht' can jump around a bit, and it's just one of those things that you get used to.
I wondered if there was a better way. I took a sample of different sentence forms that contain 'nicht', and broke those sentences down into a 'component form'. For example:
"Sie arbeitet nicht" = s v N "Er kennt diese verdammte Rasse nicht." = s v o N
s is the subject,
v is the conjugated verb,
N is 'nicht', and
o is an object. This way, I could get a clearer view of the sentence forms and where 'nicht' fits in this scheme. I included symbols for participles, infinitives, indirect objects, and so on.
After a long process of sorting and pattern matching, I came up with rules that seemed to fit the most situations, and then improved the rules to cover all my samples. Here's the current ruleset:
1. Put nicht after the conjugated verb and its subject. 2. Does the verb have an object that comes after it (direct or indirect)? yes: go to 3. no: go to 6. 3. Does the object have attachments (adjectives, adverbs, preps) and/or is this group long (3+ words)? yes: go to 4. no: go to 5. 4. If the objects come after the verb, move nicht before the objects and their attachments. Go to 6. 5. Move nicht after the objects. Go to 6. 6. Is the verb followed by an adverb? yes: go to 7. no: go to 10. 7. Is the adverb non-chronological? yes: go to 8. no: go to 9. 8. Move nicht before the adverb. Go to 10. 9. Move nicht after the adverb. Go to 10. 10. Done.
I want you guys to find sentences that contradict the ruleset, so I can improve it, and also I'd like to hear opinions on how to make the ruleset easier to read. The phrase "non-chronological" still irks me, and I'd like a better term.
Here are some worked examples.
(Asterisk marks the current position of nicht in the process.) Sample sentence: Die Katze regte sich. Step 1: Die Katze regte * sich. Step 2: yes Step 3: no Step 5: Die Katze regte sich *. Step 6: no Step 10: Die Katze regte sich nicht. Sample sentence: Auf dem Tisch liegt es. Step 1: Auf dem Tisch liegt es *. Step 2: no Step 3: no Step 10: Auf dem Tisch liegt es nicht. Sample sentence: Gibt der Schüler dem Lehrer die Leseliste? Step 1: Gibt der Schüler * dem Lehrer die Leseliste? Step 2: yes Step 3: no Step 5: Gibt der Schüler dem Lehrer die Leseliste *? Step 6: no Step 10: Gibt der Schüler dem Lehrer die Leseliste nicht?
This ruleset is only for 'nicht' when it's applied to the verb, not when it applies to an adjective. For instance, in the sentence
Erzürnt stellte Mr. Dursley fest, dass einige von ihnen überhaupt nicht Jung waren
'nicht' is attached to 'jung'. So in that case, nicht just goes with the adjective.
Also, it's to be understood that this is for 'nicht phrases' too, like 'noch nicht', 'überhaupt nicht', etc.
I look forward to your constructive feedback.
I've taken your feedback and counterexamples into consideration and I've updated and simplified the ruleset. Here is the new version:
In a main clause, put nicht: - after the verb and the subject - if objects come after the verb: after a 'short object' and before a 'long object'. - before a non-chrono adverb and after all other adverbs. In a subclause, put nicht: - after the subject - after a 'short object' and before a 'long object' - before a non-chrono adverb and after all other adverbs. A long object is an object that has attachments (adjectives, adverbs, preps) and/or is long (3+ words). A short object is an object without attachments.
The only counterexample it doesn't work for, is dirkt's "Ich kann nicht Fahrrad fahren". It still wants to put 'nicht' after 'Fahrrad'.
Nevertheless, this ruleset works for significantly more cases than any other general rules I've seen elsewhere. For those of us that see the value of rules, I'd recommend learning those above until the magical omniglot unicorn blesses you with the gift of intuition.