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Are "keine" and "nicht" both okay in the following? If so, what's the difference?

Walter und Lise sind keine/nicht Eltern.

3 Answers 3

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Kein vs Nicht | Easy German

Referring to above explanation: You use "Kein" to negate a noun without article or with indefinite article, and "nicht" in all other cases.

example of negate a verb:

Walter und Lise sind nicht gesund.

example of negate a noun:

Walter und Lise sind keine Eltern.

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Both are correct, but using "keine" is the less marked(=less unusual) form.

mohammads is right in that German usually negates using "kein" if there is a noun without article or with indefinite article. This is the case here, so

Wir sind keine Eltern.

is the normal way to negate the sentence. But in German, you can always not only negate the sentence, but also every part of the sentence but the predicate*. This is done with "nicht" before the part that is negated. This kind of negating is done to stress a contrast. So

Wir sind nicht Eltern. Wir sind Großeltern.

or, using "sondern" (but),

Wir sind nicht Eltern, sondern Großeltern.

would be a normal context to use "nicht" in the sentence.

Edit: I thought of e.g. a parents' evening (Elternabend) where you would explain that you attend not as parents but as grandparents. I realized to late that without this context this seems like a contradicting sentence.

*: That means that "nicht" can be put anywhere in "Wir haben ihn." but before "haben", funnily the position where many other European languages would put it.

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  • You can negate the predicate in German but in main clauses, you have to take into account that the V2 rule is the last word order rule applied. From the viewpoint of nicht negating the predicate, the conjugated verb is still at the end of the clause. After placing nicht, the conjugated verb is moved to second position.
    – Janka
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 18:57
  • Example: Du weißt, dass wir ihn nicht haben.Wir haben ihn nicht. The conjugated verb is moved in the main clause variant. But after nicht has been already placed.
    – Janka
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 18:59
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    While grammatically correct your example makes no sense, because clearly being a grandparent implies being a parent. Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 22:28
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Both work in this case. I can’t make out any material difference to be honest.

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  • Thank you. Are you a native speaker of German? If so, is the video mohammads linked to incorrect?
    – Apollyon
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 0:55
  • @Apollyon It is very similar in English: We are no parents vs. we are not parents.
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 17:18
  • I am a native speaker. The video (which I only skimmed, sorry) seems to be incomplete in this regard for the sake of simplicity (it’s aimed at beginners and presents a good rule of thumb, so it’s not a bad video)
    – dlrlc
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 19:52

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