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According to the teach-yourself tutorial recommended me to start learning German with, "Ich arbeite morgen nicht" and "Ich arbeite nicht morgen" both may be negative answers to the question "Arbeitest du morgen?" The explanation of the slightly different meaning of the stand-alone statements is clear.

What is not clear is how the answerer, had he to give a full answer (say doing a written test), would know whether he is asked about the day or the action? Is there a way to put the question more explicitly, or it's up to the answerer which one to choose since both variants are absolutely interchangeable as answers to the above question? Are they?

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    This seems not so different from English to me. "Do you work tomorrow?" can be interpreted both ways, and one way to differentiate in spoken English is to emphasize either "work" or "tomorrow" when you want to know whether the person works tomorrow or if he works tomorrow. Of course there are a lot of ways to rephrase the (English) question without emphasize to make it unambiguous, though. – xish Oct 14 '17 at 21:12
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    @xish: "This seems not so different from English to me." To me, it does since Simple Present as the most appropriate tense may be used also for scheduled events. So putting the question that way sooner denotes the day than the action as it would be in "Are you working tomorrow?" or "Are you going to work tomorrow?" IMO) – Lamplighter Oct 14 '17 at 21:37
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    Just be careful you don't add in an s at the end. "arbeitest du morgens?" means do you work in the mornings? – mathreadler Oct 15 '17 at 9:21
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In both German and English, this difference in asking is usually expressed with a tonal mark:

'Arbeitest du morgen?

Do you 'work tomorrow?

Arbeitest du 'morgen?

Do you work 'tomorrow?


Or you ask for a contradictive fact, so you can use a question word:

Arbeitest du morgen, oder was? (asks for the action)

Arbeitest du morgen, oder wann? (asks for the time)

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    +1 für die letzten Beispiele :) – c.p. Oct 15 '17 at 6:34
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    "Oder was" sounds very informal. "oder hast du etwas anderes vor?" would sound much more professional/elegant. Vor the "oder wann", a better alternative might be "oder hast du das für einen anderen Zeitpunkt/Tag geplant". – Polygnome Oct 15 '17 at 9:57
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I think it should be noted that

*Ich arbeite nicht morgen

is a borderline case of incorrect word order. Yes, this word order could be met out there in the wild, but you need very specific context to make that occur.

Actually this word order is plausible only when understood as en ellipsis, and the left-out part gives actual information why morgen is not correct, e.g. "ich arbeite übermorgen". This could happen in a conversation like this:

Fritz: He Klaus, du hast doch gesagt, morgen gehst du zur Arbeit. Kannst du mir den großen Schraubenschlüssel von da mitbringen?

Klaus: Ich arbeit nicht morgen, [ich arbeite übermorgen].

In any other situation, "Ich arbeite nicht morgen" seems implausible to me. You would say:

Morgen arbeite ich nicht.

Ich arbeite morgen nicht.

There is another scenario where "Ich arbeite nicht morgen" could be met: that's actually when the speaker has insufficient command of German - e.g. having learnt German just recently, or living in an immigrant community using alternative forms of German.

And a last one: In very sloppy everday German you may say "Ich arbeite nicht morgen" in a way of post-factum adding the "morgen" for clarification. But this should rather be written like

Ich arbeite nicht, morgen.

because a native German speaker would at least feel that the word order is incorrect, and that "morgen" is added for precision when the sentence actually has already finished.

I would not recommend this in a textbook on German for beginners. It leads people in a wrong direction.

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I would not use:

Ich arbeite nicht morgen

As a stand-alone answer to the question:

Arbeitest du morgen?

With Ich arbeite nicht morgen one would normally expect additional information:

Ich arbeite nicht morgen, weil...

I don't work tomorrow, because...

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  • this depends on what the question was about. if the answer is " I won't work tomorrow, but on friday", then imo "ich arbeite nicht morgen" ("aber am Freitag") is totally ok. Esp "nein, ich arbeite 'nicht morgen!" – Tommylee2k Oct 16 '17 at 9:56
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The "default" condition is that "Arbeitest du morgen?" refers to the "action." The "when" is usually taken to be given.

In rare circumstances, the "when" is the focus of the question. But the context will make that clear. Such a question may be "Arbeitest du morgen oder nächste Freitag?"

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