Understanding the German modal particle ‘doch’

Doch is a modal particle. In German grammar, a modal particle is a word used to indicate attitude, tone, or the focus of a sentence. Like wohl, mal, and auch, it is used primarily in spoken German. Despite its frequent use, doch is one of the more difficult words for people learning German to master.

The best way to master doch and any vocabulary word is to carefully study and memorize real example sentences. In WordBrewery’s Explore Mode, you can use the search bar at the top of the screen to search for authentic sentences with “doch” that recently appeared in a German news article. Here are some examples to get you started:

1. “Doch” can mean “however” (synonymous with jedoch)

Let’s look at this paragraph from an article about soccer in the German newspaper Die Zeit. The example sentence is in bold. Vocabulary from both sentences is below the text:

“Zwar wird der fränkische Sportausrüster [Adidas] die Partnerschaft mit dem DFB, die fast so alt ist wie die Bundesrepublik, auch nach 2018 fortsetzen. Doch es wird deutlich teurer.

auch | also, even

der fränkische Sportausrüster | the Frankish sports suppliers (Adidas)

deutlich | clearly

die Bundesrepublik | the Federal Republic

die Partnerschaft | the partnership

die fast so alt ist wie | which is almost as old as

doch | but, however

es wird | it will be

mit dem DFB | with the German Football Association

nach 2018 | after 2018

teurer | more expensive

wird…fortsetzen | will continue

zwar | although

The first sentence states that Adidas will be continuing its partnership with the DFB, the German Football Association. Because doch creates emphasis and attitude, it isn’t always translatable as a standalone word. Here, it appears as the word but. This tone implies the following: It’s nice that the partnership will continue. But it’s not cheap.

2. “Doch” can be used to check for agreement

Du verkaufst das Zeug aber doch.

Du verkaufst you sell
das Zeug the stuff
aber doch don’t you?

This last phrase uses two modal particles: aber and doch. Any attempt to translate this phrase literally sounds nonsensical. In this context, the p implies agreement or a statement that both speakers assume is true but aren’t completely sure.

Let’s look at a few more examples. In all three, doch provides color to the literal meaning. Be sure to study the word order alongside the meaning of each word and phrase.

Wir meinten es doch nur gut. | We only meant well.

wir meinten we meant
es it
nur good only good/well
Doch das half meist nichts. But it doesn’t help much.
das it (neuter)
half nichts doesn’t help
meist most
So kann das doch alles nicht weitergehen. So it can’t continue any longer.
kann can
alles nicht not at all
weitergehen continue

Acknowledgments

Thank you to /r/German users Duft-Pucki and Lila-liechtenstein for their suggested edits on this post.

Learn more about “doch” and other German modal particles:

University of Texas-Austin’s Grimm Grammar, Modalpartikeln

Pons, Doch Definition and Examples

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