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In a phrasebook I came across the following English/German pair:

I don't like beer.
Ich mag kein Bier.

Naively, I had expected the translation of that English sentence to be

Ich mag Bier nicht.

This raises several questions. First, is the second German sentence above even acceptable? If so, is it equivalent to the first one?

Conversely, I would have expected that the English translation Ich mag kein Bier. would be closer to There's no beer that I like. or I don't like any beer. Such may be a pretty strange sentence, at least without a suitable context, but the following variant is more plausible:

I don't like any American beer.

...which I could see translating as

Ich mag kein amerikanisches Bier.

Admittedly, the difference between these two sentences

I don't like American beer.
I don't like any American beer.

...is subtle. The first one expresses a categorical dislike, one that borders on being a principle (as if a likable American beer were simply an impossibility, on fundamental grounds). The second one, in contrast, expresses a more empirical and provisional assessment, along the lines of "I have not yet found a brand of American beer that I like."

Is there a similar distinction between the following two German sentences?

Ich mag amerikanisches Bier nicht.
Ich mag kein amerikanisches Bier.

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Ich mag amerikanisches Bier nicht.

Ich mag kein amerikanisches Bier.

Both sentences mean

I don't like American beer.

However, if the speaker stresses the kein or uses kein einziges instead, the meaning becomes

I don't like any American beer.


The form with kein is much more common than negating the action.

Ich musste amerikanisches Bier trinken!

Ich musste ein amerikanisches Bier trinken!

Ich musste kein amerikanisches Bier trinken!

Ich musste amerikanisches Bier nicht trinken. (grammatically correct but no one speaks like this!)

Ich musste das amerikanische Bier nicht trinken!

All these are about American beer in general or a brand. Not even the definite article nails it down to a certain brand or bottle. Context is king here.

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    In some dialects you may, however, hear a double negation like "Ich mag kein Bier nicht", e.g. Bavarian: I moog koa Bia net. (Saying this would probably lead to the loss of your Bavarian citizenship. Not for grammar reasons though.) – Christian Geiselmann Jun 29 '18 at 18:05
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Conversely, I would have expected that the English translation Ich mag kein Bier. would be closer to There's no beer that I like. or I don't like any beer.

"Ich mag kein Bier" also just means "I don't like beer". Without appropriate context "kein" doesn't relate to beer types or brands. There is no match for "kein" in the english language in this case. "Ich habe kein Auto" also just means "I don't have a car". There is nothing pointing to the use of "any".

"Ich mag kein amerikanisches Bier." just means "I don't like american beer." To express " I don't like any American beer." you would have to use the more expressive "Ich mag keines der amerikanisches Biere" (none of them) or even "Ich mag kein einziges amerikanisches Bier" (not a single one).

So the word "kein" doesn't make a statement stronger or more expressive. It's just a negation.

Ich mag amerikanisches Bier nicht.
Ich mag kein amerikanisches Bier.

Those 2 sentences are identical in meaning.

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    Don't you see a difference possible in those two sentences? There is a slight tendency: "mag nicht" is displaying a general disposition, exceptions quite possible. "mag kein" might take on the additional meaning of "tried them all, not one is suitable, ever". They can be the same, and then they do not have to be. – LаngLаngС Jun 29 '18 at 20:44
  • @LangLangC No, I don't see a difference. I would say that the version with "nicht" is barely used and doesn't seem to be good style. It is legal though to use it, but it doesn't have a different meaning. – Javatasse Jun 30 '18 at 16:27
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The two sample sentences at the beginning of the OP mean the same thing. The difference between kein and nicht comes down to the first means the noun isn't and the second means the verb doesn't.

Oh, and you ought to wait 24 hours before selecting an answer. That way, everybody has a chance to post an answer.

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I get frustrated by this also especially because of the influence of the English usage. The simple strategy to keep in mind is that

we can use nicht with adjectives to say things like Das ist nicht gut!, or with verbs, like Ich esse nicht! However, if we want to talk about nouns, and say things like I'm not a girl or I do not speak German, be sure to use kein and not nicht.

Reference: Duolingo

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