As a diclaimer, I'm still very new to the study of German. I'm assured that the proper translation of "I don't have a dog" is "ich habe keinen Hund" rather than "ich habe einen Hund nicht." The way that it was explained to me is that you're negating the noun rather than the verb.

I'm still slightly confused about the rule: in English, it's obviously perfectly acceptable to negate the verb. Why is this "wrong" in German in this case?

  • I’m voting to close this question as too broad, because it is not about the correctness of a single sentence (OP knows the correct one), but why the language behaves in a certain way as opposed to another language (English). – Philipp Jan 28 '19 at 9:59
  • @Philipp I'm asking why a specific sentence is correct. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 '19 at 13:57
  • @Philipp Also, the fact that people were able to give complete answers in a couple of paragraphs implies that this question is not too broad. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 '19 at 14:00
  • As you wrote, you were sure that “Ich habe keinen Hund” is correct (which is true). You then expressed confusion about a rule you learned and asked, why something is wrong in German while it is correct in English. If you accept Janka’s statement that “[it’s] grammatical, [but] no one talks like this” and her repetition of what you already knew as an answer, than it’s not too broad. If you expect an answer to your question (why is it wrong in German?), than I believe it’s too broad. – Philipp Jan 28 '19 at 15:00
  • @Philipp Yes, I already accepted that. I think that "no one talks like that" is actually a reasonable answer, and "you shouldn't negate the verb if you could use the pronoun instead" is also a good heuristic. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jan 28 '19 at 15:03

The sentence

Ich habe den Hund nicht.

is perfect. But you are talking about a specific dog previously mentioned in this case. While the sentence

Ich habe einen Hund nicht.

is grammatical, no one talks like this. You shouldn't negate the verb if you could use the pronoun keiner/keine/kein instead.

Ich habe keinen Hund.

I have no dog.

  • @DavidVogt: oops, zu schnell gelesen. Du hast vollkommen recht. – Stef Jan 27 '19 at 22:43
  • @Janka - "While the sentence 'Ich habe einen Hund nicht.' is grammatical, ..." Na, die Stelle nennst du uns mal, an der das bei Eisenberg oder Helbig/Buscha steht, um nur zwei der 'Großen' zu nennen. :-)) – multiplex et liber Jan 29 '19 at 11:30

It is just the way the German language works. Just because the English language finds something acceptable, it doesn't mean another language has to behave the same way.

However it is possible to negate the verb, but it will definitely cause confusion or at least raise an eyebrow:

Ich habe nicht einen Hund.

Sometimes though this construction is used to put emphasise on the number of dogs you have:

Ich habe nicht einen Hund, sondern zwei! (I don't have one dog, but two).

  • 3
    German "Ich habe nicht einen Hund" would correspond to "I don't have a single dog!", i.e. it would express that it's normal to own at least one. – Kilian Foth Jan 28 '19 at 7:54
  • 1
    @KilianFoth “I don’t have a single dog” could mean “not one, but zero” or “not one, but more”. Like the German „Ich habe nicht einen Hund“ could be „keinen einzigen“ or „mehr als einen“. Not possible to say without context! – Philipp Jan 28 '19 at 9:51
  • @KilianFoth Maybe the other interpretation becomes more obvious in another example: „Ich habe nicht einen Cent“ (zero). – Philipp Jan 28 '19 at 9:56
  • It becomes clearer with an additional word: "Ich habe nicht mal einen Hund." – infinitezero Jan 28 '19 at 10:45

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