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Suppose I want to say "I am not cold". I know this is "Ich bin nicht kalt". Is "Ich bin kalt nicht" also valid or is it incorrect?

I ask because I often see "nicht" at the end of the sentence, but other times I see it before the adjective/verb/noun.

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    Not important for your question but please note: german.stackexchange.com/questions/4701/… – Carsten S Feb 4 '17 at 19:39
  • I'm confused here. I'd say it should always say "Ich habe (nicht) kalt". "Kalt sein" usually means to be either without conscience or just dead. – PMF Feb 4 '17 at 19:59
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    @CarstenS Oh, well there is a whole other can of worms. For the purposes of this question then perhaps replace "kalt" with "müde". I know nicht normally precedes adjectives and follows verbs but I am curious if "ich bin müde nicht" is considered to be incorrect German or if it just (say) has a different connotation. – user85798 Feb 4 '17 at 20:11
  • @bwv869, I agree, changing that would be a good idea. – Carsten S Feb 4 '17 at 20:29
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    @PMF, „habe kalt” muss dann wohl regional sein, denn für mich klingt das schlicht falsch. – Carsten S Feb 4 '17 at 20:30
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Nicht generally precedes the item to negate.

Mir ist nicht kalt.

I am not cold.

Ich bin nicht müde.

I am not sleepy.

There is an alternative function of nicht however: as an interjection.

Sie haben es verstanden, nicht?

You have understood, haven't you?

It's not so common in Northern Germany but I hear it very often from Swiss German speakers. Oder is a replacement which is very common.

Maybe that's the nicht you hear ever so often?

And finally there's

Das finde ich nicht.

I don't think so.

Ich glaube dir nicht.

I don't believe you.

Sie gab ihm ihre Telefonnummer nicht.

She didn't give him her phone number.

which negates the whole sentence. English uses do not for the same purpose.

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  • So the difference is what type of word you are negating. For an adverb it is in front, for verbs it is after? Could you outline this a bit more? – Thomas Feb 7 '17 at 11:58
  • Where do you see the nicht after a verb? No. For negating a whole clause it isn't after a verb but at the end of the clause. If there are parts of the finite verb which are placed at the end of the same non-negated clause, they still come after the nicht. And for non-finite verbs, nicht is also front of them. – Janka Feb 7 '17 at 13:31
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Yes, the position matters.

There a two meanings of I'm not cold:

Ich bin nicht kalt - my body temperature isn't below 36 degrees Celsius.
Mir ist nicht kalt - the surrounding temperature is high enough.


The positioning:


  1. Negation of the whole sentence: nicht is positioned at the end of the clause if there is no adverb, prepositional object or part of the predicate:

Ich schlafe nicht.
Ich liebe dich (accusative object) nicht.
Ich gebe dir (dative object) das Buch (accusative object) nicht.

But:

Ich fahre nicht schnell.
Ich bringe dich nicht in die Schule.
Ich trinke das Glas nicht aus.
Ich habe darüber nicht gelacht.
Ich möchte heute nicht fernsehen.
Das will ich nicht gehört haben.


  1. Negation of one part of the clause: nicht is positioned in front of this part, that will automatically be stressed. A 'but' is pending:

Positive:

Ich fahre oft mit dem Auto zur Arbeit.

Negated:

Nicht ich fahre oft mit dem Auto zur Arbeit. (Sondern eine andere Person)
Ich fahre nicht oft mit dem Auto zur Arbeit. (aber manchmal)
Ich fahre oft nicht mit dem Auto zur Arbeit. (sondern mit dem Bus oder Rad)
Ich fahre mit dem Auto oft nicht zur Arbeit. (sondern zum Einkaufen)

Since zur Arbeit is stressed in this last example, oft has to change position, too.


  1. ..., nicht? as abbreviated (rhetorical) request to confirm or to agree:

Das Wetter ist schön, nicht (wahr)? The weather is nice, isn't it.

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    I am cold (or: Ich bin kalt) can also refer to emotional coldness; i.e. I am not cold could mean I am able to smile/laugh etc. – Jan Feb 6 '17 at 19:41
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Nicht negates the word that it precedes. That's except when it comes at the end of a sentence or a clause, in which case, it negates the whole clause. So yes, the position does matter.

To take one of the other examples,

Ich bin nicht müde. I am not tired. I may be happy, or alert, or even annoyed but the one thing is I'm not is "tired."

Ich bin müde nicht. I am tired, not. (This is more of a British construction than an American construction.)

You may be tired, or s/he may be tired, but I am not the one that is "tired."

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