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I am doing German grammar exercises about haben with nicht and the book says the following is correct:

Wir haben nicht am Freitag das Examen

But isn’t Freitag das Examen the object of the verb haben? So nicht should go to the end of the sentence as in:

Sie haben die Fahrkarten nicht?

Am I missing something?

  • 1
    "Wir haben nicht am Freitag das Examne" does not sound correct as a single sentence. Is there a clause? – Eller Nov 8 '16 at 11:45
  • No it's just a standalone sentence in the McGraw-Hill Complete German Grammar by Ed Swick - It feels wrong to me, but I'm only beginning to learn German – Davtho1983 Nov 8 '16 at 11:59
  • Helden Sterben Nicht! Sorry, couldn't refrain. – Jack Nov 8 '16 at 16:46
  • Dann fehlt aber das Satzzeichen am Satzende des ersten Beispielsatzes. – user unknown Nov 8 '16 at 18:22
  • Totally wrong! Correct would be: "Am Freitag haben wir kein Examen". Similar with the question: "Sie haben keine Fahrkarten?" – Stefan Gruenwald Nov 8 '16 at 21:10
12

What Thorsten Link wrote is correct, but I like to give another example on how to place the nicht. I give a bit too literal translations to emphasize it.

(And a note on Examen: it's Prüfung, always. Examen is the ancient god of Prüfungen, the final one after which you get your degree. But only for non-technical fields, where they still summon such gods.)

Wir haben nicht am Freitag die Prüfung, sondern am Donnerstag.

We have the exam not on Friday but on Thursday.

Nicht wir haben am Freitag die Prüfung, sondern die andere Klasse.

Not we have the exam on Friday but the other class.

Wir haben am Freitag nicht die Prüfung, sondern eine Exkursion.

We have not the exam on Friday but a field trip.

You can see the nicht prefixes the part of the sentence you want to invalidate.

Wir haben am Freitag die Prüfung nicht. Zum Glück.

We don't have the exam on Friday. Good riddance.

Placing the nicht at the end of the clause doesn't pick a particular thing to invalidate, so it invalidates the whole clause.

  • This is a great answer. – Torsten Link Nov 8 '16 at 13:08
  • I somewhat disagree with your differentiation of Examen and Prüfung — especially since Prüfung is something I mainly use in everyday life in the context of TÜV and the likes. Examen or Prüfungen at school and uni were Extemporalen, Stegreifaufgaben, Klausuren or Schulaufgaben. On the contrary, all chemistry students in Munich somewhat feared the final mündliche Masterprüfung. – Jan Nov 8 '16 at 13:21
  • One thing is missing which would make the answer complete. If you do not have any opposing fact (i.e. sondern XY), the best way to express the negation is using "kein" as opposed to using "nicht". "Wir haben am Freitag keine Prüfung." / "Wir haben keine Prüfung am Freitag." – Em1 Nov 8 '16 at 13:23
  • @Jan: I can think of Examen only in Staatsexamen in Jus and medical fields. Examensklausur means it's for that final exam (or not so final, given there is a first and a second Staatsexamen). One would never use it for a lower exam up here in the north. – Janka Nov 8 '16 at 13:37
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    @Em1: Kein is more common but gives the sentence a slightly different meaning, as it prefixes (and focuses) the Prüfung again. – Janka Nov 8 '16 at 13:39
4

The sentence as written is "unusual" but not wrong at all.

One would expect this sentence in a conversation like this:

Question: Haben wir am Freitag das Examen?
Answer: (Nein,) wir haben nicht am Freitag das Examen, sondern am Donnerstag

Again word order is about emphasis as written in on of the answers to this thread.

Writing

Wir haben am Freitag das Examen nicht

Would mean about the same, but without emphasizing the "nicht" that much.

In colloquial German one would probably use neither of the examples but simply say:

Wir haben am Freitag kein Examen

  • 4
    When nicht prefixes an adverbial of time or place, one expects that time or place is wrong. Placing nicht at the end of a clause invalidates the whole clause. – Janka Nov 8 '16 at 12:53
  • 3
    "In colloquial German one would probably use neither of the examples but simply say: 'Wir haben am Freitag kein Examen'" - that means something else, or at least shifts the focus. (In particular, the meaning changes if there are several exams that may or may not be on Friday, and you are talking about a particular one of these.) If the intention is to express that the exam probably takes place, but specifically not on Friday, the colloquial way to say that would be more like "Das Examen ist nicht am Freitag." – O. R. Mapper Nov 8 '16 at 13:51
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    Isn't the unmarked word order Wir haben das Examen nicht am Freitag? Isn't the question about that, rather than about cases in which am Freitag can be somewhere else? – reinierpost Nov 8 '16 at 15:41
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Nothing ever ‘pushes’ anything else to any other spot in the sentence in German. Rather, word order is a fine tuning process which determines an overall order that seems most natural or least strained. Thus, please remove sentences such as ‘Haben pushes nicht to the end of the sentence’ out of your mind.

Another issue with your post is what you determined to be the object. The only object in your sentence is das Examen. Am Freitag serves as an adverbial of time much like today or tomorrow but is not an object.


The negation particle nicht behaves a lot like an adverb in German. As such, it can be moved around a sentence rather freely without too much influence of the other fragments. However, it is not able to stand in the Vorfeld — the part preceeding the verb, typically labelled position 1 — alone, which constrasts it against other adverbs.

Sie rennen schnell.
Schnell rennen sie!

Sie rennen nicht.
Nicht rennen sie.

It can be used, however, to negate not the entire sentence but a single fragment of it, as Janka already explained well. If it is used to negate a certain fragment, it is placed immediately before said fragment. If it is used to negate the sentence as a whole, it is usually placed towards the end. And if it is used directly before a noun, it often gets replaced by keine — although note that that is not strictly always true. Compare:

Wir haben am Freitag das Examen nicht. (entire sentence)
Wir werden am Freitag das Examen nicht haben. (entire sentence, but note how the infinitive takes last position)
Wir haben am Freitag nicht das Examen. (Sondern die Exkursion; das Examen ist am Donnerstag)
Wir haben am Freitag kein Examen. (Wir haben überhaupt kein Examen in nächster Zeit.)

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