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German Particles

(die Partikeln)


Particles in the German language can slightly change the meaning of a sentence but their main purpose is to add emphasis or to soften the effect. Particles are immutable, and can not be declined. German Particles are divided into three categories:

  1. Particles of degree (Gradpartikeln)
  2. Modal particles (Modalpartikeln)
  3. Focus particles (Fokuspartikeln)

1. German particles of degree

Gradpartikeln

Degree particles are used with adjectives or adverbs and give the word a weak, high, or very high intensity. We have used some of these particles in earlier chapters e.g. sehr leise (very quiet), zu laut (too loud), etwas schwierig (a bit difficult).

Most German particles of degree are synonymous with adverbs and adjectives. In grammars, however, they are treated as a separate class of words together with other particles.

Some popular German particles of degree are:
sehr (very, a lot)
zu (too)
viel zu (too many, too much)
etwas (a bit, a little)
total (completely, absolutely, totally)
ziemlich (relatively, quite, pretty, pretty much)

1.1 sehr

"Sehr" means very, a lot, much. As the English translation indicates, "sehr" is used to increase the intensity of an expression. It is also used as an adverb and adjective.


Der Student ist sehr fleißig. (The student is very hardworking.)
Dieses Auto ist sehr teuer. (This car is very expensive.)
Dieses Motorrad ist sehr billig. (This motorcycle is very cheap.)
Dr. Müller ist sehr reich. (Dr. Müller is very rich.)
Es gibt sher viel Leute in dem Stadion. (There are too many people in the stadium.)
Das Wasser ist sehr kalt. (The water is very cold.)
Der Kaffee ist sehr warm. (The coffee is very warm.)

1.2 zu

"Zu" as a degree particle and adjective means "too". It is often used along with another particle "viel" (many) -> zu viel (too many).


Der Student ist zu fleißig. (The student is too hardworking.)
Dieses Auto ist zu teuer. (This car is too expensive.)
Dieses Motorrad ist zu billig. (This motorcycle is too cheap.)
Dr. Müller ist zu reich. (Dr. Müller is too rich.)
Es gibt zu viel Leute in dem Stadion. (There are too many people in the stadium.)
Das Wasser ist zu kalt. (The water is too cold.)
Der Kaffee ist zu warm. (The coffee is too warm.)

1.3 viel zu

"Zu viel" can also be used as "viel zu".


Der Student ist viel zu fleißig. (The student is to much hardworking.)
Dieses Auto ist viel zu teuer. (This car is too much expensive.)
Dieses Motorrad ist viel zu billig. (This motorcycle is too much cheap.)
Dr. Müller ist viel zu reich. (Dr. Müller is too much rich.)
Es gibt viel zu Leute in dem Stadion. (There are too many people in the stadium.)
Das Wasser ist viel zu kalt. (The water is too much cold.)
Der Kaffee ist viel zu warm. (The coffee is too much warm.)

1.4 etwas

"Etwas" in English can be translated as a bit, a little, some, any.


Das Wasser ist etwas kalt. (The water is a bit cold.)
Der Kaffee ist etwas warm. (The coffee is a bit warm.)
Dieses Auto ist etwas teuer. (This car is a bit expensive.)
Sie braucht etwas Geld. (She needs some money.)
Der Koch braucht etwas Salz und ein paar Kartoffeln. (The cook needs some salt and some potatoes.)
Es hat heute morgen etwas geregnet. (It rained a bit this morning)
Es ist etwas kalt hier. (It is a bit cold here.)
Alle Studenten sind hier aber Thomas ist etwas krank. (All students are here but Thomas is a bit sick.)

1.5 total

German partical "total" can be translated as completely, absolutely, totally in English.


Er ist total überrascht. (He is totally surprised.)
Ich bin total müde. (I'm absolutely tired.)
Ich bin total kaputt. (I am totally down.)
Das Auto ist total kaputt. (The car is totally broken.)

1.6 ziemlich

English translation of "ziemlich" can be relatively, quite, pretty, pretty much.


Der Student ist ziemlich fleißig. (The student is pretty hardworking.)
Dieses Auto ist ziemlich teuer. (This car is pretty expensive.)
Dieses Motorrad ist ziemlich billig. (This bike is pretty cheap.)
Dr. Müller ist ziemlich reich. (Dr. Müller is quite rich.)
Es gibt ziemlich viel Leute in dem Stadion. (There are quite a few people in the stadium.)
Das Wasser ist ziemlich kalt. (The water is pretty cold.)
Der Kaffee ist ziemlich warm. (The coffee is pretty warm.)

2. German modal particles

Modalpartikeln or Abtönungspartikeln

Modal particles are used frequently in spoken German. They are used to emphasize, to increase the listener's interest, to restrict something, to astonish the listener, or to agree or disagree with facts. They add only subtle meaning to a sentence and can't be easily translated into other languages. As their meanings are something to feel, so beginners often tend to avoid them. That is perfectly alright. They provide depth to the language and beautify it. The use of modal particles needs a lot of hearing practice.

Most common modal particles in German are:
denn
ja
aber
mal
doch
eben and halt

2.1 denn

"Denn" has no meaning, but it used to make a question friendly or more inquisitive. "Denn" is mostly used only in questions. Since "denn" is only an expression of friendliness or inquisitiveness, it can't be easily translated into another language.


Wo ist dein Haus denn? (Where is your house?)
Was machst du denn? (What are you doing?)
Was ist hier los denn? Warum macht ihr so viel Lärm? (What is going on here? Why are you making so much noise?)

2.2 ja

The literal meaning of "ja" is "yes" but it is also used as a modal particle. "Ja" is used to express surprise.


Ich bin ja kein Arzt. (I am not a doctor.)
Es ist ja schon 9 Uhr. Wir müssen los. (It's already 9 o'clock. We have to go.)
Es ist ja nur 12 Uhr und das Geschäft ist schon zu. (It's only 12 o'clock and the shop is already closed.)
Das ist ja kein Parkplatz bitte. Warum parken Sie hier? (That's not a parking lot, please. Why are you parking here?)

2.3 aber

Besides a role as conjugation and adjective, "aber" can also be used as a modal particle. It expresses almost the same feelings of surprise as "ja".


Ich bin aber kein Arzt. (I am not a doctor.)
Es ist aber schon 9 Uhr. Wir müssen los. (It's already 9 o'clock. We have to go.)
Es ist aber nur 12 Uhr und das Geschäft ist schon zu. (It's only 12 o'clock and the shop is already closed.)
Das ist aber kein Parkplatz bitte. Warum parken Sie hier? (That's not a parking lot, please. Why are you parking here?)

2.4 mal

The German modal particle "mal" makes a question or an imperative friendly.


Sagen Sie mal, woher kommen Sie? (Tell me, where are you from?)
Sie sind dran. Bitte gehen Sie mal rein. (It's your turn. Please go in, please.)
Kommst du mal hier bitte. (Will you come here please.)

2.5 doch

The modal particle "doch" is used to express friendliness, uncertainty, and accusation.


Ich habe doch gar nichts gemacht. Warum sagst du so was? (I did not do anything. Why are you saying that?)
Warum stehen Sie da? Kommen Sie doch rein. (Why are you standing there? Come in.)
Hören Sie bitte auf. Sie sagen doch alles falsch. (Please stop. You are saying everything wrong.)
Er ist doch Herr Müller oder? (He is Mr. Müller right?)

2.6 eben and halt

Modal particles "Eben" and "halt" emphasize the reality of a situation.


Ich kann mir kein Auto leisten. Das ist halt so. (I can not afford a car. That's just how it is.)
Ich kann mir kein Auto leisten. Das ist eben so. (I can not afford a car. That's just how it is.)

3. German focus particles

Fokuspartikeln

  1. Focus particles highlight or restrict an option compared to other options in a sentence.
  2. Focus particles refer to an important statement in a sentence and refer to it.
  3. With focus particles, certain parts of a sentence are emphasized. As the name focus suggests = focal point, the center of attention.

Some common focus particles are:
sogar (even, actually, indeed)
wenigstens (at least)
besonders (especially, particularly)
nur (only, just)
auch (also, too)
vor allem (above all, mainly)

3.1 sogar

Focus particle "sogar" can be translated in English as "even, actually, indeed". Please see the following examples.


Du fährst zu langsam. Sogar Fahrräder überholen dich. (They drive too slowly. Even bicycles overtake you.)
Sie können Fahrrad nicht fahren? Sogar ein Kind kann. (You can not ride a bicycle? Even a child can.)

"Sogar" is combined with "noch" (sogar noch) to give meanings of "yet".

Wir müssen sogar noch mehr arbeiten. (Yet we have to work more.)

3.2 wenigstens

"Wenigstens" gives meanings of "at least" in English.

Herr Schäfer ist krank. Wenigstens kannst du ihn besuchen. (Mr. Schäfer is ill. At least you can visit him.)
Du musst Mathematik wenigstens mit 2.0 bestehen. (You have to pass math at least with 2.0.)
1.0 is the top grade in German universities. 4.0 is the least passing grade, which is 50%. 5.0 is failed.

Two more German focus particles, zumindest, and mindestens have the same meanings as wenigstens, i.e. at least.

Herr Schäfer ist krank. Zumindest kannst du ihn besuchen. (Mr. Schäfer is ill. At least you can visit him.)
Du musst Mathematik mindestens mit 2.0 bestehen. (You have to pass math at least with 2.0.)

3.3 besonders

"Besonders" can be translated as "especially, particularly" in English.

Diese Schuhe haben mir besonders gefallen. (I especially liked these shoes.)
Ich habe eine Pizza mit extra Käse besonders für Sie bestellt. (I have ordered a pizza with extra cheese especially for you.)

3.4 nur

The particle "nur" gives meanings of "only, just" in English.

Er hat nur eine Schokolade gegessen. (He only ate one chocolate.)
Nicht alle, nicht viele, nur eine. (Not all, not many, just one.)

3.5 auch

"Auch" can be translated as "also, including, too".

Alle waren da, auch Herr Meier und seine Frau. (Everyone was there, also Mr. Meier and his wife.)
Er ist auch mutig. (He's also brave.)
Das finde ich auch. (I think so too.)

3.6 vor allem

"Vor allem" can be translated as "above all", "primarily", "especially", "most notably", "mainly".

Vor allem ist die Regel Nummer 1 sehr wichtig. (Above all, the rule number one is very important.)
Vor allem Kinder sind betroffen. Die müssen zu Hause bleiben. (Children are mainly affected. They have to stay at home.)

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