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Das ist ja mal wichtig: The complete guide to German particles

German modal particles are one of the trickiest linguistic components for learners of the language to master. Learn the German of everyday speech, which most classes don't teach.

Das ist ja mal wichtig: The complete guide to German particles
Photo: depositphotos/Siphotography

What makes them problematic is that there is not normally a direct translation for a specific particle, so they can be conceptually difficult to grasp.

Modal particles are words which convey the attitudes and opinions of the speaker. Although they do not change the essential meaning of the sentence, they strengthen the speaker’s message; modal particles are dispensable and serve to contextualize a statement. They are largely used in colloquial spoken language, so you’re unlikely to come across them in formal, written texts.


Doch is often used to intensify statements, both affirmatively and negatively. It roughly translates as ‘but’ or ‘after all’, as it conveys the notion of opposition, contradiction, surprise, and emphasis.

One of the ways in which it is most frequently used is to counter a negative statement, although the negative statement does not necessarily need to be expressed.

  • Ich habe doch morgen Zeit.

I have time tomorrow (although I initially thought that I wouldn’t).

  • Hast du den Kuchen nicht mitgebracht? Er ist doch in meinem Rucksack.

Did you not bring the treasure? Yes, I did, it’s in my rucksack (although you thought I didn’t).

  • Sie kommt doch nicht zur Party.

She’s not coming to the party after all (although I thought she would).

Doch can also be used as a means of seeking affirmation, as if you’re waiting for a positive response, or want the other person to share your view.

  • Wir können doch Mittwoch ins Kino gehen.

We can go to the cinema on Wednesday (we can do that, can’t we?).

  • Fuβball ist doch so langweilig.

Football is so boring (isn’t it?)

  • Es wäre doch schade, wenn kein Platz mehr wäre.

It really would be a shame if there was no more space (wouldn’t it?).


When employed as a modal particle, halt implies a sense of resignation or indifference, often to something which is generally known or accepted. It is often used to indicate that something is the way it is, and not a lot can be done about it.

  • Warum hast du denn meine Flasche Wasser getrunken? Ich hatte halt Durst.

Why did you drink my bottle of water? I was thirsty (what can I say?).

  • Es gibt halt so viele Menschen, die ohne Liebe leben.

There are just so many people who live without love (but what can be done?).

A video from the YouTube Channel ‘Easy German’ breaks down a few favourite German particles.


Ja also serves to emphasize a statement and seeks to elicit agreement. In contrast to doch, in which the speaker tries to convince the listener of their point of view, ja implies that the speaker and listener share an opinion.

In some cases, it emphasizes an idea which is very clear to the speaker, and which the speaker thinks should be obvious to the other person. In this instance, it can be translated similarly to ‘obviously’ or ‘as you know’.

  • Ich habe ja morgen Zeit.

Of course, I have time tomorrow.

  • Heute bleiben wir ja zu Hause.

Today we are staying at home (it’s raining outside, you’ve broken your leg, your partner is ill, and there is no reason to leave the house).

  • Es gibt ja viele Einwanderer in Deutschland.

There are lots of immigrants in Germany (as you know).

But ja can also be used to express surprise or amazement.

  • Sie sind ja begabte Tennisspieler!

They’re talented tennis players (I didn’t know that).

  • Dein Sohn ist ja so groβ geworden!

Your son has grown so big! (I haven’t seen him in ages and didn’t realize how much he’d grown up).


Mal serves to soften statements by making the speaker seem friendlier and more interested. It can make commands and requests sound more casual and politer, a little like English words such as ‘quickly’ or ‘just’.

  • Kannst du mir mal das Buch geben.

Can you pass me the book (just real quick)?

  • Probiere mal das Essen von deinem Vater. Daran wirst du nicht sterben.

Just try your dad’s cooking, it won’t kill you.

  • Lesen wir mal den faszinierenden Artikel über Modalpartikel!

Let’s read the fascinating article about modal particles!


Wohl can be roughly translated as ‘probably’ or ‘possibly’ and suggests probability or certainty from the speaker’s perspective.

  • Der Vater ist wohl abwesend, weil ich ihn nie gesehen habe.

The father is probably absent because I’ve never seen him.

  • Der Moment der Wahrheit wird wohl eher in der zweiten Hälfte der Geschichte kommen.

The moment of truth will probably come in the second half of the story.

Wohl can be used in a similar way to the English construction ‘must + infinitive), which helps to convey a sense of assumption or certainty on behalf of the speaker.

  • Sie sind wohl schon Apotheker geworden.

They must have already become pharmacists.

  • Der Hund hat wohl keinen Besitzer.

The dog must not have an owner.

A dog and its owner in Lower Saxony in September. Photo: DPA

Wohl can help to contradict a previous point, similar to doch. In this instance, it can be translated as ‘of course’, or a stressed ‘do’.

  • Ich kenne wohl den Mann, mit dem du sprichst.

I do know the man you are speaking to.

  • Hattet ihr die Sicherheitsmaβnahmen überprüft? Wir haben vier Dokumente verloren.

  • Ja, wir hatten sie wohl durchaus überprüft. Sie wurden wohl gestohlen.

Did you check the security measures? We lost four documents.

Yes, we did check them thoroughly. They must have been stolen.


Denn is employed in questions to make them appear more casual or convey subtle interest, surprise or reservation.

  • Isst du denn gerne italienisches Essen?

Do you like Italian food? (I’d love to take you out somewhere and I’m thinking about where to take you).

  • Was ist denn das Problem?

What’s the problem then?

  • Wie groβ ist sie denn?

So how big is she?

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The German language you need for summer in Austria

Summer in Austria is when people go outdoors to enjoy public pools, swim in rivers and lakes and complain about the weather. Here are a key few words and expressions to have at hand.

The German language you need for summer in Austria

As we near summer and scorching temperatures, it is about time to brush up on our (Austrian) German in order to enjoy the season to its fullest.

There is no shortage of activities that Austrians enjoy during the hottest months of the year and it’s essential to know some basic vocabulary to enjoy them to the fullest.

READ ALSO: Five of the best things to do in Vienna this summer

If you are more advanced, we also bring a couple of phrases and idioms locals use so that you don’t get too confused when you hear that it’s emperor weather outside.

Basic summer vocabulary

Here are some basic words to get you through the season:

Der See, or the lake. Especially in Austria, with its numerous beautiful lakes (and best bathing waters in Europe!), going for a swim in the lake or a river (der Fluss) is a perfect summer activity.

READ ALSO: Austria home to the ‘best bathing waters’ in Europe, new ranking claims

If you are in Vienna, you’ll likely visit one of the great Freibäder, the outdoor public swimming pools. Another common pastime during the season is parties and barbecues, die Grillparty, but don’t forget to check the rules in your area to see if you are allowed to light up the grill and which type.

Some basic vocabulary for these popular summer activities include die Sonnenbrille (sunglasses), das Wasserrutsche (water slide), das Eis (icecream), der Hut (hat), die Sonnencreme (sunscreen), and die Radtour (bike tour).

If you go through a summer heatwave (a Hitzewelle), you might look for places to cool down. Austria offers spots with Trinkbrunnen (drinking fountains), Bodenfontäne (ground fountains), and Sommerspritzer, which are cooling water sprinklers.

Some common expressions to use in summer

A few words are a bit more advanced or just more informal and a perfect way to describe certain summer feelings.

For example, the “monkey heat”, or Affenhitze, is a word German speakers use to describe those extremely hot days. So if you want to comment on what a scorcher of a day it is, you should say, “Heute ist eine Affenhitze”.

A similar expression is Sauheiß, literally translated to “pig hot”, for those unbearable heat days.

On the other hand, if the day is simply beautiful, sunny, with no clouds in the sky, Austrians will call it “Emperor weather”, or das Kaiserwetter. The urban legend goes that the idiom stems from Austrian history. Kaiser Franz Josef’s birthday, the August 18th, was often bright and cloudless.

And if you ever get caught in one of Austria’s Sommergewitter, the summer thunderstorm, you might hear someone say, jokingly: “Du siehst aus wie ein begossener Pudel!” it literally means “you look like a wet poodle” and, really, they won’t be wrong.

Heading to a public pool? This is what you should know

Sometimes, not speaking the local language can prevent people from trying activities involving talking with someone in German. While swimming in lakes or rivers won’t require any particular German vocabulary, if you want to enter the public pools (and you should, they are fantastic), you might need to know a few words.

Some public pools are “natural” ones, located by river banks. (Photo: PID / Christian Fürthner)

First, the open-air pools are called (singular) Freibad, an area by the river that is closed off and used as public natural pools would be a Strandbad (something like “beach pool”), a Hallenbad is indoors, Kombibad will have both indoor and outdoor pools, and a Familienbad is for families (adults are not allowed in without children).

Öffnungszeiten: opening times. The websites and signs will also state the “Kassaschluss”, which are closing times for buying an entry (usually you will see they are “eine halbe Stunde vor Badeschuss”, or half an hour before the pool closes).

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

Eintrittspreise. These are the entry prices. There might be many different options here, including Kleinkinder (small children), Kinder (children), Jugendliche (young people), and Erwachsene (adults). If you feel young at heart and are confused about how much you must pay, don’t worry: there are usually birth years next to the prices. So, for example, adults are those born in 2003 and earlier.

Other entry options may include Familienkarte (family card, they will specify how many adults and children) and time-based cards, such as “Nachmittagskarte”, for example, for people who want to spend half a day or less.

You can also find season passes, but in general, the whole process of buying and entry is relatively straightforward. In Vienna, it is even possible to buy day tickets online. However, not every pool will have online sales for many weeks in advance or on weekends when demand is high.