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I’ve been scratching my head after I saw a sentence in my girlfriend's workbook.

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I always thought that correct word order is:

Leider kann ich nicht kommen.

However, her teacher said that the following is correct:

Leider kann nicht ich kommen.

Which one is correct? Which one is more natural to say?

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Both are correct, but they mean different things.

Nicht always negates the part of the sentence that comes after it. So:

  • Leider kann nicht ich kommen negates "ich": Unfortunately, it's not me who can come (but maybe someone else).

  • Leider kann ich nicht kommen negates "kommen": Unfortuntaly, I cannot come.

In normal situations, you'd would always use the second one, unless you want to stress that there's a second person who can come.

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  • Exactly, that's what I was thinking - that nicht ich completely changes the meaning of the sentence. I wasn't sure whether it was grammatically correct though. Thanks for clarifying! – RaffAl Jan 30 '17 at 15:35
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    I think the "nicht ich" combination is actually a really strong one. By putting the "nicht" in such a prominent position. It does not imply "maybe someone else", but "definitively someone else". (Note that the second version makes no statement about whether somebody else could come or not.) Referring to the context both version express the same statement, with the the first one being really rare in common language. – fer-rum Jan 30 '17 at 18:09

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