Nicht vs. KeinWhat's the difference?

What's the difference between nicht & kein in German? Both words seem to negate something, but they cannot be swapped out for one another...

💡Quick Answer

The difference between nicht & kein is that nicht requires a verb, while kein requires a noun. So you could say Ich möchte nicht essen., but you would have to say Ich habe kein Geld.

What's the difference between nicht & kein?

The difference between nicht & kein in German is very easy to understand: Nicht is used with verbs, while kein is only used with nouns. In this sense, nicht can be translated as "not", while kein can be roughly translated as "no" or "none".

Let's have a look at an example:


Schlechte Neuigkeiten! Ich kann nicht mit dir nach Barcelona fliegen.


Was? Hast du den Flug denn nicht gebucht?

Here, nicht applies to the verb fliegen: Peter cannot fly to Barcelona. And Sarah uses "nicht" to negate the verb haben or, more specifically, gebucht haben.

Let's see how their conversation continues:


Nein, ich hatte letzte Woche kein Geld!


Und diese Woche?


Diese Woche habe ich Geld, aber die Flüge sind teurer geworden. Ich konnte einfach keinen günstigen Flug finden.

Peter did not have any money to book the flight last week, and this week wasn't able to find any cheap flights. So he says:

Ich hatte kein Geld.

I had no money.


Ich konnte keinen Flug finden.

I wasn't able to find a flight.

As you can see, the word kein is here used with the nouns Geld and Flug. It also changes depending on the case of the noun (e.g. keinen Flug) - the word nicht does not.

And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between the German words kein & nicht 😊.

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