I am trying to learn negation in German language and have run into a bit of trouble.

  1. Siehst du fern?
    Nein, ich sehe nicht fern.

  2. Siehst du den Stuhl?
    Ich sehe den Stuhl nicht.

In sentence 1, the noun 'fern' is the object, and 'nicht' follows the direct object. So why isn't it 'Ich sehe fern nicht'?

In sentence 2, the noun 'Stuhl' is the object but it is preceded by definite article 'den'. So why isn't it 'Ich sehe nicht den Stuhl'?

Thank you for your time and help.

Ref: https://resources.german.lsa.umich.edu/grammatik/nicht/

  • 1
    Welcome to German SE! If fern was a noun, it would be capitalized! But in fact, there is no noun Fern. For the same reason, Stuhl in the second sentence must be capitalized (which you didn't). So just by the orthography you can tell that fern isn't a noun (and in this case, it isn't even an object). Besides, as already pointed out in the first answer, Stuhl isn't the subject, but an object – it's surprising that you assume fern to be an object, but Stuhl to be the subject! May 2, 2021 at 18:02
  • 2
    @amadeusamadeus: To be fair, fern as a separable prefix is rather unusual, and using a single verb fernsehen to mean "watch television" sounds odd to English ears; by that logic, listening to the radio would be fernhören. But you're right that not paying attention to capitals made a confusing situation even worse. Also, the previous paragraph in the UMich site where the example was taken from already implies that fern is part of the verb.
    – RDBury
    May 3, 2021 at 1:16
  • 1
    I thought only proper nouns were capitalized, but just learned that in German all nouns are capitalized! Thank you. Yes, Stuhl is the object, my bad. I have corrected it in the question.
    May 3, 2021 at 6:18
  • @RDBury Indeed, I don't think fernhören has ever been used, however fernschreiben was, e.g. (for telegraphy and the like) and sometimes fernkopieren. Besides, there are less common verbs like fernbedienen. English, in fact, didn't translate the prefix tele- in the former examples, but still created to teletype etc., so maybe the single verb would be to telewatch. On the other hand, there is to televise sth., which has no literal equivalent in German (there it would be generic senden or übertragen). May 3, 2021 at 9:36

1 Answer 1


In sentence 1, fern is not object. It is part of the separable verb fernsehen.

The two parts of sehe fern constitute a sentence bracket, where fern goes to the end of the sentence. Because the last position is occupied by fern, nicht cannot be at the end, so it immediately precedes fern.

In both sentences the rule that nicht comes at the end applies, but in the first sentence the rule that the separable prefix comes at the end takes priority, so nicht is second-last.

I don't quite understand what you mean by

In sentence2 the noun stuhl is the subject but it is preceded by definite article 'den'.

Den marks the accusative, so it is clear that Stuhl is not the subject but the accusative object.

  • I am sorry...I meant to write stuhl is the object. Thank you for the answer. Have to be vary of separable verbs!
    May 2, 2021 at 19:35
  • What about "Ist das die Professorin?-Nein, das ist nicht die Professorin." Why isn't ist 'Das ist die Professorin nicht?'
    May 3, 2021 at 1:37
  • In "Nein, das ist nicht die Professorin." it's die Professorin which is negated, not the entire sentence.
    – RHa
    May 3, 2021 at 6:51
  • Isn't 'die Professorin' the object in this sentence? I am asking because in 'Ich sehe den Stuhl nicht.' the 'nicht' is placed at the end. deutsch.lingolia.com/en/grammar/sentence-structure/negation states 'nicht' should precede definite article.
    May 3, 2021 at 7:24
  • @GRANZER No, die Professorin is a part of the predicate, called Prädikatsnomen -- with sein being the Kopula, the complete predicate is die Professorin sein. May 5, 2021 at 13:47

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