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Doch! …and Other Tricky German Words
Part 2: Doch! Really!
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The German word doch is so versatile that it can also be dangerous. But knowing how to use this word properly can make you sound like a true German (or Austrian or German Swiss)!

Let's start with the basics: ja, nein …and doch! Of course, two of the first words you ever learned in German were ja and nein. You probably knew those two words before you began studying German! But they aren't enough. You also need to know doch.

The use of doch to answer a question is not actually a particle function, but it is important. (We'll get back to doch as a particle in a moment.) English may have the largest vocabulary of any world language, but it doesn't have a single word for doch as an answer.

When you answer a question negatively or positively, you use nein/no or ja/yes, whether in Deutsch or English. But German adds a third one-word option, doch (“on the contrary”), that English does not have. For instance, someone asks you in English, “Don't you have any money?” You actually do, so you answer, “Yes, I do.” While you might also add, “On the contrary...“ only two responses are possible in English: “No, I don't.” (agreeing with the negative question) or “Yes, I do.” (disagreeing with the negative question).

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German, however, offers a third alternative, which in some cases is required instead of ja or nein. The same money question in German would be: Hast du kein Geld? If you answer with ja, the questioner may think you are agreeing to the negative, that yes, you do not have any money. But by answering with doch, you are making it clear: “On the contrary, yes, I do have money.”

This also applies to statements that you want to contradict. If someone says, “That's not right,” but it is, the German statement Das stimmt nicht would be contradicted with: Doch! Das stimmt. (“On the contrary, it is right.”) In this case, a response with ja (es stimmt) would sound wrong to German ears. A doch response clearly means you disagree with the statement.

Doch has many other uses as well. As an adverb, it can mean “after all” or “all the same.” Ich habe sie doch erkannt! “I recognized her after all!” or “I did recognize her!” It is often used this way as an intensifier: Das hat sie doch gesagt. = “She did say that (after all).”

In commands, doch is more than a mere particle. It is used to soften an order, to turn it into more of a suggestion: Gehen Sie doch vorbei!, “Why don't you go by?“ rather than the harsher “(You will) go by!”

As a particle, doch can intensify (as above), express surprise (Das war doch Maria! = That was actually Maria!), show doubt (Du hast doch meine Email bekommen? = You did get my email, didn't you?), question (Wie war doch sein Name? = Just what was his name?) or be used in many idiomatic ways: Sollen Sie doch! = Then just go ahead (and do it)! With a little attention and effort, you'll begin to notice the many ways that doch is used in German. Understanding the uses of doch and the other particles in German will give you a much better command of the language.

NEXT > More Particle Examples

> 1: ...and Other Tricky Words
> 2: Doch! Really!
> 3: Particle Examples

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