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Sprechen Sie sehr schneller, damit die Hörer nicht einen Schlaganfall bekommen.

Why isn't it "keinen"? I found this in a C1 book.

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    "Sprechen Sie sehr schneller" sounds sehr falsch. Is that in the book?
    – HalvarF
    Sep 19 at 16:30
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    It's basically the same in English: "... so the listeners don't get a stroke" vs. "... so the listeners get no stroke". Sep 19 at 17:29
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    German generelly prefers "keinen" over "nicht einen", but this doesn't mean that the latter is wrong.
    – RHa
    Sep 19 at 19:59
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This is actually also part of a quote by Tucholsky:

Kündige den Schluss deiner Rede lange vorher an, damit die Hörer nicht einen Schlaganfall bekommen. (Kurt Tucholsky, Ratschläge für einen schlechten Redner)

Both kinds of negations are fine, and the distinction is very much subjective and subtle. My feeling is that the use of nicht einen is more used with actions rather than states, so with haben you'd definitely use kein(en), whereas with bekommen I'd sometimes prefer nicht. I find it hard to explain why, which is why I think it's not a fixed rule. It could also be that keinen in this context is a more colloquial/modern use -- I personally don't think about which one I use myself.

Update: +1 for O.R.Mapper's explanation -- this is I think what I tried to express with action vs state: the keinen just negates the noun Schlaganfall ('state'), whereas the nicht negates the 'action' of getting a stroke.

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    To me, here "nicht einen" sounds more forcefully than "keinen".
    – vonbrand
    Sep 20 at 2:44
  • This is not the conventional wisdom according to the grammars I've seen. For example it states here that "Nouns without a definite article are negated by the use of kein." The two versions are, of course, logically equivalent, as are the English statements "I didn't see anything." & "I didn't see a thing." In my experience "conventional wisdom" is often wrong though. And most "rules" have exceptions and subtleties that grammars sometimes forget to mention.
    – RDBury
    Sep 20 at 3:59
  • @RDBury Yes, I'm going here by my 'native speaker' feeling; I find that grammars and linguistic practice often diverge in these kinds of issues. And I'd trust Tucholsky more than a fellow grammarian... Sep 20 at 8:14
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The issue at work here is that there can be a subtle difference in meaning between

Sprechen Sie schneller, damit die Hörer nicht einen Schlanganfall bekommen.

and

Sprechen Sie schneller, damit die Hörer keinen Schlanganfall bekommen.

The issue is that this difference is not strictly observed by native speakers. Both versions can be interpreted in both ways, and it may be more of a diffuse feeling of ambiguity/likely interpretation that makes them pick one version over the other in certain circumstances.

The two possible interpretations of the sentence are as follows:

Speak faster, because otherwise, listeners will get a stroke.

In this interpretation, having a stroke is causally connected to the addressee's behaviour, in such a way that it will happen unless the addressee does as told. That is, if the addressee keeps speaking slowly, this can cause a stroke for the listeners, but if the addressee changes their talking velocity, this effect will vanish.

Speak faster, in order to prevent listeners from having a stroke.

In this interpretation, not having a stroke is causally connected to the addressee's behaviour. If the addressee keeps speaking as fast as they do, listeners may or may not have a stroke, but if the addressee speeds up their talking, this is going to have a salubrious effect, which will prevent strokes that could otherwise have happened.

In the sentence at hand, it's the first interpretation that is intended.

My impression is that this is the more likely interpretation if "nicht einen" is used, which would make me prefer this version over "keinen". I think that is because "nicht einen" can be seen to negate the entire second phrase, "einen Schlaganfall bekommen". As such, "damit ... nicht" can be understood as "weil ansonsten".

"Keinen", in contrast, is more equivalent to stating a number of "zero". Rewriting the second phrase as "damit die Hörer null Schlaganfälle bekommen" sounds more like actively bringing the number down to zero, which is not intended here.


Remark on the original sentence: As already noted in the comments, "Sprechen Sie sehr schneller" is not correct German. It is rather close to several valid constructions, though:

  • Sprechen Sie sehr viel schneller
  • Sprechen Sie sehr schnell
  • Sprechen Sie schneller

In the above text, I have silently gone with the third option, as the focus of my answer is on the second part of the sentence, anyway.

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Your Question is in the middle of correct and wrong. The sentence "Das ist doch keinen... " is actually "Das ist doch kein... ". "Kein" is a shortcut for "Nicht einen" like how the brits use "I'm" instead of "I am".

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I disagree with others who claim that "nicht ein*" and "kein*" are interchangeable. That just isn't supported by evidence from modern usage. The standard negation with an indefinite article or no article would be to use a form of "kein". When "nicht ein*" is used instead, then this indicates a special use of language, either to give emphasis ("I don't want ONE roll, I want TWO.") or in a variety of other possible contexts in which the speaker is diverting from standard usage to create an effect. Here, I would argue that "keinen" is not used because the speaker isn't talking about people having a literal heart attack. He/she might say that they are indeed talking about a literal heart attack, but that too would be part of the rhetorical effect they are creating. If a doctor was giving a patient advice on avoiding a literal heart attack, they would most likely use "keinen", unless they were trying to lighten things up a bit (in English, it would be the difference between the doctor saying, "Get lots of exercise so that you don't have a cardiac arrest.' (keinen) vs. "Get lots of exercise. After all (pats patient on the back) you don't want to have a heart attack, heh heh." (Sie wollen nicht einen Schlaganfall bekommen.) It's as if in order to give the phrase, "einen Schlaganfall bekommen" it's full rhetorical weight (which can vary from context to context), "nicht einen" is used instead of "keinen".

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  • I don't think it's about the negation of Schlaganfall -- you're correct that you would use keinen for that; it's about the negation of the phrase einen Schlaganfall bekommen, which is subtly different. Sep 20 at 19:51

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