I'm having a little trouble figuring out where to place nicht in a sentence. I was told it usually goes in the end of a sentence, or in some cases it goes before an adjective, before a verb or before a preposition.

So if I understand it well, I cannot say:

*Im Flugzeug darf man nicht das Handy benutzen.

The correct sentence being:

Im Flugzeug darf man das Handy nicht benutzen.

Is that correct?

Okay, well in this case I can understand. But what if I said:

Man darf laut Musik nicht hören.

Would that be correct? Because in this case I think there's an adjective (i.e. laut) and a verb (i.e. hören), so what's the rule here? Can I place the nicht wherever I want, meaning, before laut or before hören? In other words, what's the correct sentence?

Man darf laut Musik nicht hören. or
Man darf nicht laut Musik hören.

Or maybe both?

  • It depends on, what is negated. As I know, "nicht" at end negates the whole sentence, otherways it negates the word after that. But this rule is weaker as the common German structure as infinitive goes to the end with hilfverbs (it is stronger as any other, except the currently more and more custom englicisms). Thus, "Im Flugzeug darf man nicht das Handy benützen" means, that some other thing you can use without any problem. While the "nicht" in the sentence "Im Flugzeug darf man das Handy nicht benützen" negates the whole sentence. But it is not 100%, it is my... experimental custom :-)
    – peterh
    Apr 7, 2017 at 23:45

1 Answer 1


A general rule: Nicht comes before the sentence element to negate. If it's the last word in a clause, the clause itself is negated. The latter isn't always possible.

Man darf laute Musik nicht hören.

This means you aren't allowed to hear loud music but implies you are allowed to play or feel or do something else with loud music.

Man darf laute Musik nicht hören. Man muss sie fühlen!

You aren't allowed to listen to loud music. You have to feel it!

Man darf nicht laut Musik hören?

This negates the adverb laut. It means you are asking (unbelieving) whether it's not allowed to hear loud music.

Man darf nicht laut Musik hören? Aber leise doch schon, oder?

One isn't allowed to listen to loud music? But quiet is okay, isn't it?

E.g. in true question sentences, nicht cannot be the last word. Instead, the nicht is placed after the subject. Here it's man:

Darf man nicht laut Musik hören?

Such sentences have a bit of ambiguity because of that and people use it for word play.

„Darf man nicht laut Musik hören?” — „Man nicht, du schon.”

This also applies for the other situations where the nicht cannot be the last word in a clause.

  • It was for an exam. It said: "In der Bibliothek..." and then we were asked to complete the sentence with darf nicht, muss or kann. And this precise item said "Man....laut Musik hören", so obviously the choice would be "darf nicht". According to what you said, here, we're talking about a library, so one must not hear or play or do whatever it is with loud music, so the option would be "Man darf nicht laut Musik hören". It was an excellent answer, I'm even about to print it, I'm sad I'm going to lose a point at the exam, but glad I understood how it works. Thank you! Apr 7, 2017 at 16:05
  • There is nor really a difference in meaning, but I would say that in "nicht laut Musik hören" the whole phrase "laut Musik hören" is negated. To negate only "laut", I would say "Musik nicht laut hören".
    – Carsten S
    Apr 7, 2017 at 17:09
  • @janka: great elaboration, just one comment. In English one commonly "listens to music", similar difference as with "watching" vs "seeing". To say "one isn't allowed to hear music" would be very odd.
    – tink
    Apr 7, 2017 at 18:50
  • @CarstenS I guess that would require a certain knowledge of the rules of libraries in Germany, to know if music is allowed, loud or not. I think here the teacher expected us to answer Man darf nicht laut Musik hören. The chapter we're on is about expressing erlaubt and verboten things, so I don't think we were supposed to go that deep in interpretation yet. But I understand what you mean, I'm starting to see it clearer now. Thank you so much. Apr 7, 2017 at 22:50

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