In my german book, there are two sentences that have nicht in last and second last position. I was wondering on what basis do we decide their position.

Sentence 1: "Nein, abends esse ich nicht warm ."

Sentence 2: "Sie isst den Kuchen nicht"

For sentence 1, there was a cross in the choice marked with 'nicht' word in last.

2 Answers 2


Adrian explained the basic rules to you. But, why does it have to be

Nein, abends esse ich nicht warm.

and not

Nein, abends esse ich warm nicht.

This one is tricky. The basic rules suggest you could negate the conjugated verb —the whole clause— by putting nicht at the end of the clause. However, here this is ungrammatical.

Why? Because this isn't what you want to express. You don't want no negate ich esse. If you wanted that, you had to say:

Nein, abends esse ich nicht.

Your intent was negating warm, that was the reason you had put it in there. So you had to negate that item by putting nicht in front of it.

So, why does this apply to warm but not den Kuchen? Puzzling, both

Sie isst nicht den Kuchen.

Sie isst den Kuchen nicht.

are correct. Because den Kuchen is an object rather than a property of the verb and both sentences are meaningful. They don't mean the same thing. The first one cries for a … , sondern as the cake is negated and not the action of eating, so there's another object she eats. The latter sentence in contrary negates the action of eating. No further questions asked.

You cannot do that with a property to the verb as warm.

If I had to write a grammar book, I would put the rules regarding nicht as follows:

  • Put nicht in front of the item you want to negate.
  • Never put nicht in front of the conjugated verb in second position. Put in in front of the other part of the verb at the end of the clause instead. If there is none, put nicht at the end of the clause. The latter is a measure of last resort.
  • 1
    How do you deal with "Sie fährt nicht Auto", where "Sie fährt Auto nicht" is incorrect, even though we'd expect it to be good, looking at the Kuchen-examples?
    – sgf
    May 13, 2019 at 9:23
  • Sie fährt das Auto nicht. and even Sie fährt ein Auto nicht. are correct. The reason your example isn't correct is Auto isn't an object to fahren but a part of the predicate. Auto fahren and Rad fahren had been autofahren resp. radfahren in the past because of this.
    – Janka
    May 13, 2019 at 12:22
  • I am unable to understand the difference between Sie isst den Kuchen nicht and Sie isst nicht den Kuchen. It is true that Cake is an object and not an adjective. So when we negate the eating of cake, we apply nicht at the last. That makes sense. Would the first sentence mean that " you eat no cakes" while the latter mean "you dont eat cakes". Though both of them looks same but first one suggest that "you eat something else than cakes" Am I going in the right direction? May 14, 2019 at 5:32
  • 1
    Sie isst nicht den Kuchen. means she eats, but not the cake. People would ask what she eats in that case, as you focused on how she skips the cake, but she does eat. Sie isst den Kuchen nicht. just means she doesn't eat the cake. You negated the eating instead of the cake. If you wanted to say she doesn't eat cake at all, you had to use Sie isst keinen Kuchen.
    – Janka
    May 14, 2019 at 15:52

You can find the answer here. Lingolia To make it a little bit easier. The main rules are basically:

  • At the end of the sentence to negate the Verb (whole sentence)
    • If the verb has an auxiliary verb like "haben", "sein", "Modal Verben" or is in "Perfect Tense", you need to put "nicht" before the last verb. For example: Sie kann nicht schwimmen
  • Before a word or phrase that describes something, you want to negate
    • For example: Er ist nicht hier. Er ist nicht zu Hause. Es ist nicht rot
  • 2
    This answer is an oversimplification and therefore misleading. For instance, in sentences with a predicative, it is usually wrong to put "nicht" at the end (negating the verb), you must put it before the predicative. example: "sie war nicht schön" (not "sie war schön nicht"). This is further exemplified in Janka's answer. I suggest that a German learner interested in the subject reads a deeper explanation of the subject in order to avoid confusion. May 12, 2019 at 7:19
  • Well, that's what I mean by the second rule. I am not pretty sure the word used for that in English. It is usually before the "Angabe" (Information) or "Ergänzung". (Supplement). May 18, 2019 at 11:31
  • Nevertheless, these 2 rules are not enough to cover a lot of cases. Another example: "Er fahrt nicht oft nach Deutschland". Putting the "nicht" at the end of the sentence in order to negate the entire sentence would be wrong. How should a German learner know that doing it is wrong and he must negate the frequency adverb (oft) instead? Remember that other languages always negate the whole sentence. German negation is a complex subject and any short description of it will be an oversimplification. It is better to invest time in it and learn it right instead of applying a trial and error method. May 18, 2019 at 22:17

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