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Examples of negating sentences
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Examples of negating sentences

the position of niet

Recall that the most common place for niet is between the middle and the right part.

Left Middle Right
FF? MANNER? - OV?
We hebben door het lawaai buiten niet kunnen slapen
We have not been able to sleep because of the noise outside.

Had we placed niet immediately before 'het lawaai buiten' (the noise outside), we would have said: "We have been able to sleep not because of the noise outside." In other words, you were in fact able to sleep, but this was not caused by the noise outside.

Left Middle Right
FF? DIROB? - OV?
De dove man kon de deurbel niet horen
The deaf man could not hear the doorbell.

With niet immediately before de deurbel, we would have stressed that the deaf man could not hear the doorbell (but he might be able to hear something else).

Left Middle Right
FF? DIROB? - OV?
De schaakkampioen wilde het partijtje niet opgeven
The chess champion did not want to give up the match..

If we place niet before 'het partijtje' (the game), we say "It was not the game the chess champion wanted to give up (but his career?)."

Left Middle Right
FF? DIROB? TIME? - OV?
Ze hebben hun huiswerk gisteren niet gemaakt
They did not do their homework yesterday.

Hun huiswerk is a specific direct object?, which we normally place at the beginning of the middle part. However, if we want to stress the direct object, we always place it at the end of the middle part (see direct object?).

The following two examples illustrate how the position of niet influences the meaning of the sentence:

Left Middle Right
FF? DIROB? - TIME? OV? -
Ze hebben hun huiswerk niet gisteren gemaakt, maar eergisteren
They did not do their homework yesterday but the day before yesterday

The part maar eergisteren falls outside the main clause. We will deal with subclauses? later.

Left Middle Right
FF? MANNER? - MISC? OV?
Erik kwam door een open brug niet op tijd ---
Due to an open bridge*, Erik was not on time.

(*) Because of the many bridges in Holland, an almost proverbial excuse for being late is that de brug was open.

Instead of niet op tijd, we might as well say te laat (too late).

Left Middle Right
FF? - MANNER? MISC? OV?
Erik kwam niet door een open brug op tijd ---
Erik was on time not due to an open bridge.

If we place niet before door een open brug, Erik was apparently on time but this state of affairs was not caused by an open bridge. It is a rather silly thing to say that Erik was not on time because of an open bridge, which generally causes the opposite, but because of something else.

Left Middle Right
FF? - DIROB? OV? -
Wilden niet een bosje bloemen geven maar een doosje bonbons
We did not want to give a bouquet of flowers but a box of pralines.

In the above example, we placed niet before a non-specific direct object?. It is more common to use geen? in this case.

As you read at the beginning of this page, you can almost always place niet between the middle and the right part. Almost, because there is one element inside the middle part that always follows after niet: When the PLACE element refers to a direction, niet immediately precedes PLACE.

Left Middle Right
FF? TIME? - PLACE? OV?
Ze zijn gisteren niet naar de film geweest
They did not go the movies yesterday.

The sentence "Ze zijn gisteren naar de film niet geweest" is plainly wrong. This is contrary to the other examples, where misplacing niet can change the context of a sentence but does not render an incorrect sentence.

Left Middle Right
FF? - PLACE? OV?
Onze kat wilde niet van het dak af komen
Our cat did not want to come off the roof.

The same goes for "Onze kat wilde van het dak af niet komen", which is also grammatically incorrect. Note that the PLACE element consists of a preposition (van), a noun (het dak), and a postposition (af). Indications of direction or movement often take this form.


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L-ahhar aggornament May 17, 2007 ::