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I'm confused about the word order with the word "nicht".

For example, you say

Sie geht nicht nach Hause.

but why is "nicht" at the end here?

Sie wäscht ihre Hände nicht.

when you want to say that she doesn't wash her hands, instead of "Sie wäscht nicht ihre Hände."? Or similarly (I guess you could say that she washed something else, but not her hands), why can't you say

Sie geht nach Hause nicht.

?

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    That's maybe not an exhaustive answer, just some examples of use. Am equally eager to see what we may get, if there is a general rule. I have no idea, even as a German. I would equally use "Sie wäscht nicht ihre Hände" und "Sie wäscht ihre Hände nicht", the latter may be to emphasize some defiance in a reaction, but that's only a gut feeling, i have nothing substancial.
    – user41853
    Mar 5, 2020 at 19:52
  • @VolkerLandgraf I read that other question, but it uses clear rules why they put "nicht" at the end, for example "gern" is an adverb, hence it goes at the end, "Film" is a noun, so it goes at the end. I'm confused why in the second sentence putting "nicht" at the end is outright wrong, whereas in the former both go (tho one is less common). Both sentences have verb, noun in accusative, so I struggle to find a nice rule such as "adverb, so 'nicht' goes at the end".
    – Aaa
    Mar 5, 2020 at 20:09
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    @a_donda "Sie wäscht nicht ihre Hände" That at least sounds unusual for me. Mar 5, 2020 at 20:13
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    @a_donda I'd understand that the speaker in this case wants to stress that she is washing something - but it definitely isn't her hands.
    – Aaa
    Mar 6, 2020 at 10:24
  • For example, or stress the fact that she is somewhat obstinate in washing her hands. Depends if emphasis is on "wäscht" or on "nicht".
    – user41853
    Mar 6, 2020 at 12:46

1 Answer 1

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As a general rule, nicht negates item it leads.

Sie geht nicht nach Hause.

Sie wäscht nicht ihre Hände.

Nicht sie wäscht ihre Hände.

And now the exception. Actually, it still follows the rule but needs additional reasoning. Let's use a separable verb for illustration:

Sie geht dieses Wochenende nicht aus. (ausgehen – to go clubbing)

See how this works? This nicht leads the predicate verb. Well, at least the separable prefix which sticks to the end even in main clauses. Only the conjugated stem of ausgehen is moved to V2 position. And this is just the same for non-separable verbs.

Sie wäscht ihre Hände nicht.


But what about

Sie geht nach Hause nicht.

That one is really tricky. It follows the above rule, but no German speaker would put it that way. The following one is fine though:

Sie geht im Haus nicht.

My guess is this is because it is an adverbial of direction. These seem to be special, they want to be negated instead of the predicate verb. It doesn't apply to other adverbials.

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    Otoh, to denote that something won't work inside the house the phrase "Das geht im Haus nicht." is normal use.
    – user41853
    Mar 6, 2020 at 8:28
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    Yes, it's only directions that are special. Why? No idea.
    – Janka
    Mar 6, 2020 at 10:18
  • I guess you could say "Sie geht nicht dieses Wochenende aus" to stress that she will be going out some other weekend, just not this one. I'd chalk the "Sie geht nach Hause nicht" up to being an exception, but saying "Eine Kurve ist gerade nicht" also sounds wrong.
    – Aaa
    Mar 6, 2020 at 10:31
  • But Eine Kurve ist es gerade nicht. is perfectly okay. Your example is another tricky exception.
    – Janka
    Mar 7, 2020 at 21:12

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