A text I am studying has the following sentence:

Allerdings entschied in den ersten Jahren nicht eine Expertenjury, sondern das Publikum, wer den Bären erhalten sollte.

How is this correct and why is it not

Allerdings entschied in den ersten Jahren keine Expertenjury, sondern das Publikum, wer den Bären erhalten sollte.

The source for this is Slow German Podcast #179: https://slowgerman.com/2019/02/15/sg-179-die-berlinale-das-deutsche-filmfestival/

  • Do you have a source for this? There is another mistake in this sentence. It should read "in den ersten Jahren".
    – mtwde
    Nov 21, 2019 at 3:43
  • Yes, sorry, I introduced the later mistakes and have corrected them. But the original question is correct with respect to the sentence, as you can see in the transcript of the podcast if you look. Why is it not kein?
    – user40290
    Nov 21, 2019 at 4:11

2 Answers 2


You are witnessing the collision of two conventional constructions.

One is the juxtaposition of "nicht A, sondern B". Basically. "sondern" can only be used in combination with a preceding negation of some kind - most usually, "nicht".

The other is the transformation of "nicht" + "ein" into "kein". "Nicht" can be used to negate almost anything: it can even apply to articles, adverbs, subordinating conjunctions. But in combination with the indeterminate article it usually transforms into "kein".

Now combine both effects. The transformation construction prefers "kein", but the "sondern" construction prefers explicit "nicht" over implicit negations such as "keine" or "selten". Both preferences are strong but not absolute, so one of them has to give (if they were absolute, you couldn't combine them in this way). In this case, the transformation construction gave way.

Note that this is not the only situation where the "keine" transformation is inhibited. For instance, you can stress the indefinite article to emphasize how appalling it is that no one passed the exam:

Nicht einer von euch hat die Klausur bestanden!

This is another context in which transformation doesn't happen.

  • 5
    Ich kaufe nicht ein Auto, sondern zwei / Ich kaufe kein Auto, sondern ein Fahrrad. Nov 21, 2019 at 8:02
  • @infinitezero But note that there's a relevant difference in intonation here: nicht ein Áuto, sondern ein Fahrrad vs. nicht éin Auto, sondern zwei. Nov 25, 2019 at 16:40

Both sentences are correct and fine in this context.

I feel that the first version puts a little more emphasis on the difference "not that, instead this", but the meaning is the same.

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