I know that basically the order in German is SVO (Subject, Verb, Object). And in some cases when we want to show more emphasis on an adverb, or here in this example to show more emphasis on negation word, we would be able to use it in the sentence prior to other parts of sentence. for example:

Ich kann es nicht sehen. => Ich kann nicht es sehen.


Ich sehe es nicht. => Ich nicht es sehe.

As it has been indicated here in Michel Thomas Foundation course transcript: Michel Thomas Foundation Course So, in the second sentence we have more emphasis on negation and exactly the "nicht" word. In the examples above, the word "nicht" could come prior to direct pronoun to show emphasis in the sentence; But the question is: Could it also come before an adverb to show more emphasis? for example could we say:

Ich warte hier nicht. => Ich warte nicht hier.

  • 3
    Please note that your first two "rewordings" are grammatically wrong. Your last example is grammatically correct, it just moves the stressing: from "no waiting" to "not here". Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:39
  • dear @ShegitBrahm, Which one is grammatically wrong? My teacher told me exactly the same sentence as : Ich kann es nicht sehen. => Ich kann nicht es sehen because of emphasis. I can also give you reference.
    – Armin
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:46
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    dear @Armin: the reworded ones: "Ich kann nicht es sehen." & "Ich nicht es sehe." are wrong. The latter is "more wrong" = you could with same language play claim that "ich kann nicht es sehen" stresses the "es". Any other interpretation is out of my imagination. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:50
  • Really?! Check out the Michel Thomas German course, inside Foundation part you could hear that he says the same as what I said and in its transcript it's also searchable in the text file. ( page 3 line 30 it says: (ich kann nicht es sehen is also possible, but is stronger).
    – Armin
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 12:19
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    Thanks for the picture. - Question: why do you deem this source as reliable? The claim "Ich kann nicht es sehen is also possible, but is stronger" is very odd, to phrase it politely. For me, this seems to be written by somebody who does not really know German. A claim does not become necessarily true just because somebody wrote it down on paper. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 16:03

1 Answer 1


I cannot give you a theoretical explanation, but I can list variations that are possible.

1) Ich kann es nicht sehen.

No variation is realistically possible.

Okay, one is, but this is a very forced situation like in this dialogue:

A: Ich kann es nicht sehen.

B: Wie bitte? Was kannst du es nicht?

A: Nicht sehen kann ich es. [Strong tonal emphasis on nicht sehen]

What ever you do with the word order else will result in distorted sentences:

  • Ich nicht es sehen kann. :-(
  • Ich es nicht sehen kann. :-(
  • Ich es sehen nicht kann. :-(
  • Ich sehen es nicht kann. :-(
  • Nicht es ich sehen kann. :-(
  • Kann nicht es ich sehen. :-(
  • Ich kann nicht es sehen. :-(

And so on. You always sound like a broken robot.

2) Ich warte hier nicht.

Viable variations:

Ich warte nicht hier.

Hier warte ich nicht.

Warten tu [or: werde] ich hier nicht.

Warten werde ich nicht hier. [Audience would expect a continuation like: ... but over there]

Other variations are not allowed.

Later addition

After pondering this for 4 more hours, I eventually found a situation where Ich kann nicht es sehen can be regarded a justifiable sentence in standard German. That's when you make a list like

Ich kann nicht: es essen
Ich kann nicht: es riechen
Ich kann nicht: es fühlen
Ich kann nicht: es schmecken
Ich kann nicht: es sehen.
Es muss ein echtes Abstraktum sein.

But that's a really highly artificial situation here, and the merit is basically on me for finding it. In any realistic everyday situation, this sentence has no merit whatsoever.

Suggestion for an explanation

I looked quickly up who is Michel Thomas. I learned that he was born as Moniek Kroskov or Kroskof in 1914 in Łódź (now Poland), of a Jewish family. Now this gives us a hint: people living in that region spoke a peculiar form of German; also they may have been used to using Jiddish, which is closely related. In both, a word order like Ich kann nicht es sehen is quite possible and may have been normal. Not so, however, in standard German. Thomas simply shares the form of German he used in his childhood. (If Michel Thomas happens to be the author, of course.)

  • dear @Christian Geiselmann, Thanks for answer, but as you say the only variation that would be possible is: "Nicht sehen kann ich es." in the context above. But the truth is that: "ich kann nicht es sehen." is also possible, but is stronger, as I gave reference to such claim as well in the comment above.
    – Armin
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 12:08
  • @Armin Well, for my feeling, Ich kann nicht es sehen, even if used in the same context as my anyway strange dialogue above, is a bit too far off. But of course, what native speakers accept as well-formed sentences, depends also from frequency. If you are exposed to a strange sentence a couple of times you start accepting it as normal. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 13:37
  • Thanks dear @Christian Geiselmann, your research was worthwhile. And the point is that Michel Thomas was also a polyglot. So, I thought that it's still getting used. But you're right maybe he used it in his childhood or before German Standard modification. Nevertheless you are native German speaker and also a researcher. So, you're right.
    – Armin
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 0:11
  • This is a good answer. I'd like to point out another variation that, to me, sounds much less forced than "nicht sehen kann ich es": "Sehen kann ich es nicht." (strong emphasis on "sehen") Note how this follows the same pattern as your "warten werde ich hier nicht" (as opposed to: "nicht warten werd ich hier", which just sounds strange). Commented Aug 18, 2019 at 15:20

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