Google Translate says this means "How strong is not your magic!" This does not make any sense. Without nicht, though, it makes sense. Could anyone tell me what usage this is?

This is the title of an aria from Mozart's opera "Die Zauberflöte" (The Magic Flute).

  • Might be some kind of artistic license.
    – Devon
    Nov 11, 2017 at 8:45
  • So, what is the meaning? Nov 11, 2017 at 8:46
  • 1
    This is more or less the same thing as "Your magic is strong, isn't it?", just in poetic German.
    – tofro
    Nov 11, 2017 at 10:56
  • 5
    I really start wondering about the way German seems to be taught in... where ever. Many contributors here have been asking recently for help with admittedly difficult sentences. But the point is: these sentences are always taken from very high-level works of art; usually they have some expression that is used exclusively and uniquely in this one and single piece of literature; they are of no relevance for learning German in any practical way. - Teachers should offer their students tasks relevant for everyday use first. Nov 11, 2017 at 12:01

3 Answers 3


The word nicht is not only used to negate a statement (translating to not in English), but it can also be used to emphasize a statement1. Typical examples are

Was es nicht alles gibt!

Was du nicht sagst!

1See meaning 3. of „nicht“, provided by the Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache, https://www.dwds.de/wb/nicht, accessed 11.11.2017.

  • 2
    One should add: "Was Lehrer im Deutschunterreicht für Nichtmuttersprachler nicht für bescheuerte Textbeispiele auswählen!" Nov 11, 2017 at 12:04
  • 1
    "Was du nicht sagst!" is paralleled by the (by now rather old fashioned) "You don't say!" Nov 12, 2017 at 20:00

This isn't a question, it's an exclamation meaning "How strong your magic is!".

Since the point of the utterance is to draw attention to the strength of the device, it's obvious the speaker thinks it is great, not small. Therefore makes little difference whether you use a negation or not in this construction, and at the time this was written (around 1790) it was customary to use one.

(Compare "Is this great, or what?" with "Isn't this great?" - the meaning is the same with or without "not".)


In the old times one would have looked into the booklet (typically in three or four languages), to find:

How powerful is your magic music,/ sweet flute, for when you sound/ even wild beasts feel joy.

Full English text to be found here

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