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I was asked where the word "nicht" should be placed in the following sentence and did not have a good answer. Can someone point me to the correct rules and maybe point out the differences?

Version 1:

Ich möchte dich nicht mit meinem Blödsinn beleidigen

Version 2:

Ich möchte dich mit meinem Blödsinn nicht beleidigen

Both sound correct to me. For me, version 1 focuses more on the "Blödsinn", i.e. it is ok to insult the other person with something else, whereas version 2 conveys that "Blödsinn" is somewhat normal and that the person has no intention of insulting the other party (in any way, not just explicitly for Blödsinn), but maybe entertain with said "Blödsinn".

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Your question has multiple dimensions. The example is probably not a good pick if you wanted to discuss modal verbs with negation in general, because of one complication: If I am referring to my own contributions to a discussions as "Blödsinn", then it's probably irony, because why would you devalue your own utterances?

You are right that both sentences are correct, but I am not sure I understand your reasoning fully. E.g. it is not clear why it would ever be ok to annoy somebody with Blödsinn in the first place.

What you intend to express with either sentence would depend on context AND stress. FWIW, let me point out the key difference.

The version 1 ends the conversation. It suggests the following: The speaker believes that the recipient doesn't have a high opinion of the speaker anyway and would reject his/her words as "Blödsinn". Therefore any further conversation on that very topic is futile.

Version 2 on the other hand does not end the dialogue. The speaker wants to emphasize that the (implied) previous words did not have the intention to insult the recipient. At the same time the speaker downplays the importance what was said in the first place by devalueing it as "Blödsinn". This sentence is an offer to continue the conversation on less serious terms.

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  • This is very useful, I like your explanation of the intention behind the two versions. Maybe the example could have been better; In that specific case the word "Blödsinn" was chosen jokingly and the topic of discussion was nothing serious and playful. Would that change anything? – sfiss Mar 17 at 13:17
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Putting aside that the sentence sounds unnatural, both sound correct to me, too. If you look at this link, you see that 1) is the natural position for an unstressed nicht, that negates the whole sentence.

If this sentence uses a stressed nicht, that negates a part of the sentence, 1) negates Blödsinn, giving "I want to insult you, but not with my nonsense" and 2) negates beleidigen, giving "What I want to do with my nonsense is not insulting you".

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