3

Both некуда and негде mean nowhere, but there seems to be some semantic difference between the two. For example, we have

Им некуда идти They have nowhere to go

and

Им негде сесть They have nowhere to sit

(examples encountered in Duolingo). From these and other examples, I'm getting the feeling that негде is used for more specific or in some sense "smaller" locations, while the location (or rather lack thereof) in constructions using некуда is more abstract.

I'd like to know

  1. Is there is a better way (such as a hard grammatical rule) than just developing a "feeling" to decide when to use which?
  2. Are there examples where you might use either word? If yes, how do the semantics change, if at all?
7

The difference is similar to that between куда and где: the former implies a goal or direction ("where to"), while the latter -- presence or momentary location ("where at").

Им некуда идти -- They have no place where they can (or want to) go

Им негде сесть -- They have no place to sit where they currently are

1
  • I mostly agree with you, but it's a bit more tricky than that as Им некуда сесть can be as well used at least colloquially. – user7808407 Dec 30 '19 at 9:26
5

I second other answers clarifying direction vs. location. In addition, there are some nuances regarding whether or not both words can be used.

When a verb accompanying "некуда/негде" denotes movement, both "некуда/негде" can be used (given a potentially different meaning to the whole sentence). When this verb is non-moving, only "негде" can be used.

  • Им некуда идти - They have nowhere to go
  • Им негде идти - They are meant to go, but there's no path

  • Им негде сесть - They have no place to sit where they currently are

  • Им некуда сесть - They have no place to sit even if they move around

  • Им негде посидеть - They have no place to spend some time sitting

  • Им некуда посидеть - WRONG. Non-movement verb!
3

From your surname, I assume you are German. The difference is very similar to the one between the German “nirgendwo” (for “негде”) and “nirgendwohin” (for “некуда”):

Им некуда идти.Sie können nirgendwohin gehen.
Им негде сесть.Sie können sich nirgendwo setzen.

Correspondingly, “nirgendwoher” is “не́откуда”:

Помощи ждать неоткудаHilfe wird von nirgendwoher kommen.

N.B. One must not confuse these forms and the forms with the prefix “ни-”. These forms require the particle “не”:

Они не могут никуда пойти.Sie können nirgendwohin gehen.
Они не могут нигде сесть.Sie können sich nirgendwo setzen.
Помощь не придёт ниоткуда.Hilfe wird von nirgendwoher kommen.

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