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Modal particle

Modal particles (Modalpartikel in German) are always uninflected words similar to grammatical particles in English which are also uninflected. However, English grammatical particles in fact include function words such as sentence connectors[?], sentence substitutes[?], conjunctions, interjections and even adverbs, which German particles do not do. They are entities standing out for their simpliciy in German, a language which is so much more inflected[?] than English.

Modal particles are much purer in that their only function is that of reflecting the mood or attitude of the speaker or narrator. They do not refer back to what has been said previously but only what the speaker's attitude is to what has been said earlier. They do not stand in for whole sentences, and they do not exclaim when the speaker is in pain, for example, as interjections in English do.

Modal particles need to be learned in daily usage as there is practically no literal translation for each in itself other than that it helps form the phrase which on the whole conveys the way the speaker intends to sound, either to tone down opinions on the one hand or emphasize something on the other, to be conciliatory here or to give sharpness of expression there.

The way modal particles are used and when they are used, is very complex indeed, and it might be said that they form a kind of criterion of the speaker's grasp of the German colloquial[?]. If he uses the modal particles correctly he may be said to be in command of conversational German.

There are thirty or so modal particles in German, and a list is included of the most commonly-used words in alphabetical order. Each example shows an explanation of the intention behind its use, a short German phrase demonstrating it if possible and the nearest English equivalent - never a precise one as that would be probably impossible. It must also be born in mind that the full citation of each word could not be incorporated in anything less than a full-scale essay, and an encyclopedia entry cannot really do justice to such a task.

  • aber - not the conjugation, this is a word expressing surprise at something unexpected or going beyond expectations.
    "Das war aber ein schöner Tag". English: "It was a beautiful day" - emphasis "was".
    "Aber nein" - emphatically "Of course not".

  • allerdings - a concession or reservation is expressed here: "However","admittedly", "to be sure". as in "Die Stadt hat uns gefallen. Allerdings fing es an zu regnen". "We enjoyed the town. Admittedly, it started to rain".
    Strongly assertive or affirmative if the question raises doubt or the answers implies more than is being said:
    Kennst du die Stadt? -Allerdings.
    Do you know the town? - Of course I do. (And I know its reputation, too).

  • also - in no way compare this with English "also" - "too", "as well as". It Implies a conclusion the speaker has come to. "So", "thus", "then", "well".
    Du meinst also, dass es heute abend noch schneit?
    So you think it is going to snow tonight after all? (See particle "noch").
    Also gut - Well alright then!

  • auch - putting into context an impression: clarifying (often with another particle: "ja". - "Well", "but".
    Mir ist schlecht. - Du hast (ja) auch so viel Süßes gegessen.
    I am feeling sick. - But/Well you have eaten so many sweets. Confirmatory, when it should go without saying - it usually has a tag question[?] in English.
    Passt du auch auf? - You are paying attention, aren't you?
    In questions when no real answer can be expected. - "Well", "well, what do you expect?
    Ich habe kalte Füße. - Warum läufst du auch immer barfuß herum?
    My feet are cold. - Well, what do you expect, when you always walk about barefoot?

  • bloß - (similar to "nur", but not so formal) limiting, reducing, restricting effect - "(if) only", "simply".

  • denn - referring back to what has just been said, or in an over-all context, makes everything sound more tactful and moderates the tone. In English "then" or "tell me".
    Warum musst du denn verreisen? - Tell me, why must you go away?
    In negative types of questions it can include reproach but also may indicate an unstated justification:
    Was ist denn hier los? - What on earth is going on here?
    There are a number more ways of using this particle.

  • doch - has elements of contradiction, that things have turned out differently than expected. Has same cognate as English "though". Translations could include "nevertheless", "however" or have tag questions in English, depending on the context.

  • eben - has confirmatory element, which also confirms a self-evident truth, something to which there exists no alternative. In English "just so", "indeed".

  • eigentlich - makes things sound more casual, tones down demands, moderates a refusal, leaves matters open. English: "tell me", "actually", "strictly speaking", something of the "humming and hawing" about this one.

  • einfach - means that there is really only one way of dealing with a problem - "simply", "just".
    Geh doch einfach los. - Just start walking.

  • erst - something is happening later than might be expected - "only", "as late as", "not before", "not until".
    Intensifying in short statements - "really", "especially".
  • etwa - in questions implies that something objectionable is touched on and the answer ought to be "nein" - "don't tell me", "you don't mean to say".
    Expressing a possibility - "should it", "if it were to".
    Followed by (a) number(s) possibly an estimate - "about", "approximately".

  • freilich - (never "freely") implies a concession, that something might be the case after all - "admittedly", "all the same".
    Affirmative after a question - "of course", "naturally", "certainly".

  • gar - Intensifying, specially with "nichts", "kein/e" - "nothing at all", "anything at all".

  • gleich - in w-type questions tactfully asking for a repeat of the answer - "again".
    Was war (doch) gleich der Name ihrer Geburtsstadt - What was the name again of the place where you were born?

  • halt - used in south German areas similar to north German "eben".

  • immerhin - if something has not quite come up to a standard expected, but may still be acceptable - "at any rate", "anyhow" or "even so".

  • ja - above all it is used as the affirmative particle as the English "yes".
    In another usage, if speakers agree on a point that something goes without saying - often used with the English "do" or "did" word. "We did do, you know". "Of course, we did".
    Something which has just been noticed and is surprising. - "Why","Oh", "Oh, here she is." "Why, she has got her husband with her".
    A command being made to sound more intensive - "Lauf ja nicht über die Straße". - "Don't you dare run across the street".
    Emphasizing a statement and repeating it - "Indeed", "even" - "Es war schön, ja es war großartig" - "It was lovely, indeed, it was splendid".

  • jedenfalls - the reason something should be so or the way it is and not as bad as it might appear - "at any rate" or "at least".
    If something ought to be done or remembered (asking someone to) - "anyhow", "whatever happens" or "why don't you" - "When es morgen schön ist gehn wir an den See. Bring jedenfalls deinen Badeanzug mit". "We'll go to the lake tomorrow if it is nice". Anyhow, bring your swimsuit".

  • lediglich - similar to "nur", slightly more formal.

  • mal - most often used in requests and questions, makes it all sound less blunt and more placatory - best translated with "just" or paraphrased with "why don't you".

  • noch - if something is taking longer than expected - "still" or "as yet".
    Something is/was continuing or taking place when the speaker comes/came across it - "that very (day/evening)", "only (that day)".
    If additional things or items are to follow - "apart from", "else", "(some) more", "another", etc.

  • nun - apart from the adverb of time, "nun" is used when a certain dissatisfaction or impatience is expressed - "now (then), when...", "when does..." or "Well".
    At the beginning of a sentence an indication that the subject of conversation is now exhausted - "well,..." - "Nun, wir werden ja sehen" - "Well, we shall see"

  • nur - has a limiting or restricting effect - "only", "merely", "simply", or "just".
    "Nur" is the near alternative to "bloß".
    It can be used in a calming, reassuring sense - "do", "don't worry".
    Komm nur mit - do come along (with us)
    Mach nur weiter - just carry on
    as a warning - "you had better",
    in a w-question - "where/what on earth...", "where-/whatever"
    increasing the effect of,intensifying a wish - "(if) only"

  • ohnehin - similar to "sowieso" - "anyway", "in any case"

  • ruhig - reassuring as to what the speaker is saying - "just" (carry on), "it's alright to...", "feel free to..."

  • schließlich - as something that is obvious to all; concluding that something is so - "after all (said and done)"

  • schon - in the sense that something is already happening, or sooner than expected, but far wider ranging than in the English equivalent - "already", "as early as",
    before quantities, occasions, numbers, etc. - "already",
    compelling, insistent when requesting or commanding.
    (Nun) mach schon - do hurry up,
    when referring to the future - "all right", "don't worry".
    Es wird schon gehen - it'll be all right, don't worry,
    restrictive before nouns, etc. - "even", "if only",
    in statements agreeing but with reservations - "well", "only", "quite", "I think so"
  • sowieso - with a meaning that something exists/is happening regardless of other facts - "anyway", "in any case", "that goes without saying"

  • überhaupt - something is expressed in general - "on the whole", "generally", "in any case", "at all",
    in questions involving doubts or assumptions - "on earth".
    Was war gestern überhaupt los? - what on earth happenened yesterday?
    Intensifying in negative sentences - "at all".
    Ich weiß überhaupt nichts davon - I don't know anything about this (at all)

  • übrigens - used casually in a statement - "by the way", "incidentally"

  • vielleicht - normally the adverb "perhaps",
    but also when intensifying a statement or an exclamation - "really", "isn't half/wasn't half", etc.
    Das hat vielleicht geregnet - it didn't half rain.
    In questions when the speaker expects a negative answer - "don't tell me" or "do you mean to tell me?"

  • wohl - apart from the adverb "wohl" - "well",
    in cases where something is very likely or probable - "I suppose/expect", "probably", or with tag-questions at the end of the sentence,
    where "ja wohl" is used - "no doubt", "pretty certainly".
    Er weiß das doch wohl selber - no doubt he knows that himself,
    in a case of confirming something with a certain reservation - "possibly", "that may be so, but",
    plus one or two more usages
  • zwar - making a concessive statement, something said with certain reservations - "it may be but..", "although",
    making more precise, summarizing or counting up items - "namely", "to be precise...".

External link: Teaching German Modal Particles (http://llt.msu.edu/vol5num3/mollering)

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