Negation – Nem…Van or Nincs?

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEM…VAN AND NINCS

Take a look at these sentences and you’ll see what I mean, but first a small summary:

nem…van/vannak = is/are not
>expressing existence

nincs/nincsenek = there is/are no, there isn’t/aren’t any
>expressing something, someone is not to be found somewhere

POSITIVE SENTENCES:
Az autó a garázsban van. – The car is in the garage.
Az autók a garázsban vannak. – The cars are in the garage.
A labda a strandon van. – The ball is on the beach.
A labdák a strandon vannak. – The balls are on the beach.

NEGATIVE SENTENCES WITH NINCS:
Az autó nincs a garázsban. – There’s no car in the garage.
Az autók nincsenek a garázsban. – There are no cars in the garage.
A labda nincs a strandon. – There’s no ball on the beach.
A labdák nincsenek a strandon. – There are no balls on the beach.

NEGATIVE SENTENCES WITH NEM…VAN:
Az autó nem a garázsban van. – The car is not in the garage.
Az autók nem a garázsban vannak. – The cars are not in the garage.
A labda nem a strandon van. – The ball is not on the beach.
A labdák nem a strandon vannak. – The balls are not on the beach.

See what I mean? And the positive sentences are no problem. A positive existence or whereabouts is simply expressed with van, vannak which, however, can be translated in English as: is, are / there is, there are.

SUMMARY:
van = is, there is
vannak = are, there are
nincs = there is no, there isn’t any
nincsenek = there are no, there aren’t any
nem…van = is not
nem…vannak = are not

This is a problem only in present tense. In any other tense and mood you use the same forms for both existence and wherebouts.

PAST:
volt, voltak = was, were / there was, there were
nem volt, nem voltak = wasn’t, weren’t / there was no, there were no

FUTURE:
lesz, lesznek = will be / there will be
nem lesz, nem lesznek = won’t be / there won’t be

CONDITIONAL:
volna, volnának = would be / there would be
lenne, lennének
nem volna, nem volnának = wouldn’t be / there wouldn’t be
nem lenne, nem lennének

IMPERATIVE:
legyen, legyenek = (let) be / (let) there be / (there) should be / had better be
ne legyen, ne legyenek = don’t be / (there) shouldn’t be / had better not be

A few examples for the sentences above in other tenses and moods:

Az autó a garázsban lesz.
The car will be in the garage.
Az autó nem lesz a garázsban.
The car won’t be in the garage.

A labda a strandon legyen.
The ball had better be on the beach.
A labda ne legyen a strandon.
The ball had better not be on the beach.