The Position of 'Nicht' in German Sentences

Night on a highway

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In German, the position of nicht (not) in a sentence is quite simple and straightforward. You have to keep in mind a few points, and nicht will fall right into place.

Nicht as an Adverb

Nicht is an adverb, so you will always find it either before or after a verb, adjective or fellow adverb. It usually precedes an adverb or an adjective, but it likes to settle after conjugated verbs. (So think the opposite of English.)

  • Example: Ich trinke nicht meine Limonade. (I'm not drinking my lemonade.)

Nicht and Declarative Sentences

On the other hand, nicht likes to travel all the way to the end of a sentence at times. This happens most often with declarative sentences.


  • A sentence with just a subject and verb: Sie arbeitet nicht. (She is not working.) 
  • A sentence with a direct object (mir): Er hilft mir nicht. (He doesn't help me.) 

The same applies with simple yes/no questions. For example: Gibt der Schüler dem Lehrer die Leseliste nicht? (Is the student not giving the reading list to the teacher?)

Nicht and Separable and Compound Verbs

With verbs, nicht will bounce around a bit depending on the type of verb. 

  • Nicht will be positioned right before a verb prefix in a sentence containing a separable verb. For example: Wir gehen heute nicht einkaufen. (We are not going shopping today.)
  • Nicht will be positioned right before an infinitive or infinitives that are part of a verbal combination. For example: Du sollst nicht schlafen. (You should not sleep.) Another example: Du wirst jetzt nicht schlafen gehen. (You are not going to sleep now.)

Nicht and Adverbs of Time

The adverbs of time that have chronological logic to them will usually be followed by nicht. These are adverbs such as gestern (yesterday), heute (today), morgen (tomorrow), früher (earlier), and später (later).

  • Example: Sie ist gestern nicht mitgekommen. (She did not come along yesterday.)

Contrarily, adverbs of time that do not have a chronological logic to them will be preceded by nicht.

  • Example: Er wird nicht sofort kommen. (He will not come right away.)

With all other adverbs, nicht is usually positioned directly before them.

  • Example: Simone fährt nicht langsam genug. (Simone doesn't drive slow enough.)

Summary of Rules

Nicht will usually follow: Adverbs that can be organized chronologically.

Nicht will usually precede:

  • adverbs of time that cannot be organized chronologically
  • all other adverbs
  • verbs
  • separable verb prefix
  • verb infinitives
  • adjectives
  • prepositional phrases
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Your Citation
Bauer, Ingrid. "The Position of 'Nicht' in German Sentences." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bauer, Ingrid. (2020, August 27). The Position of 'Nicht' in German Sentences. Retrieved from Bauer, Ingrid. "The Position of 'Nicht' in German Sentences." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).