2

I have been learning German for a month now and I had a doubt about the sentence structure with the word "nicht".

For the sentence - "I cannot come with you"

Will the German sentence be - "Ich kann mit dir nicht kommen"

or

"Ich kann nicht mit dir kommen"

What will be the correct position of the word nicht? Or are both the sentences correct?

Please explain, Thank You!

1
  • "Nicht" should usually be as close to the word you want to negate as possible. At the same time you need to observe the few rules regarding word order that exist in German (in this example the V2 word order). You want to negate "können" ...
    – user6495
    Nov 4, 2022 at 8:14

3 Answers 3

1

Will the German sentence be - "Ich kann mit dir nicht kommen"

or

"Ich kann nicht mit dir kommen"

Both are possible, but the latter one is far more usual than the first.

In general you put the "nicht" in front of (sometimes after) the part you want to negate (or you want to emphasize the negation for). The sentence "Ich kann nicht mit dir kommen." is the "normal" position for the "nicht" and states the fact: "i cannot come with you".

Here are some possible variants and their meaning. Notice, that in spoken language you can also emphasize what you want to negate by change of voice "I cannot come with you" vs. "I cannot come with you" vs I cannot come with you"):

Ich kann nicht mit dir kommen.
I cannot come with you. Or: I cannot come with you (but maybe with someone else or maybe at another time).

Ich kann mit dir nicht kommen.
I cannot come with you (but i can do something else with you maybe).

Ich kann heute nicht mit dir kommen.
I cannot come with you today (but maybe some other day).

To sum it up: there is a "normal" position, which doesn't put emphasis on any specific part and "just states the fact". This would be your second version.

Other positions of the "nicht" are also possible, but they will put emphasis on exactly the part of the sentence they are negating.

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  • Examples 1 and 3 are identical. To me, it seems like 1 and 2 are swapped. "Ich kann nicht mit dir kommen" can mean I cannot come with you or I cannot come with you.
    – PMF
    Nov 4, 2022 at 10:18
  • @PMF: Editing artefact. Thanks for spotting, i changed it
    – bakunin
    Nov 4, 2022 at 10:39
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The rule which applies here is:

In sentences with a finite auxiliary verb and an infinite main verb, if the entire sentence is negated, nicht precedes the main verb, but it also precedes prepositions.

So without the "mit dir" part, the negated sentence is:

Ich kann nicht kommen.

But with "mit dir", the sentence becomes:

Ich kann nicht mit dir kommen.

Now what about:

Ich kann mir dir nicht kommen.

Here, it's not the entire sentence but the verb (kommen) which is negated.

This rule applies if the entire sentence is negated.

If only some part of the sentence is negated

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As a general rule, nicht goes before the phrase it negates. And keep in mind that the V2 rule is the last word order rule applied, so from the viewpoint of any other word order rule, the finite verb is at the end of the clause.

So with this

Ich kann heute mit dir nicht kommen.

Du weißt, dass ich heute mit dir nicht kommen kann.

you negate the short phrase kommen können while with this

Ich kann heute nicht mit dir kommen.

Du weißt, dass ich heute nicht mit dir kommen kann.

you negate the long phrase mir dir kommen können. That it usually what you want in this context.

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