Doch is one of those wonderful words in German that people who speak German wish existed in English. In fact, after you’ve learned how to use doch in German, you’ll (as a presumably non-German speaker) wish it existed in English, too.
You use doch to convey mood or emphasis. It has no specific grammatical purpose, but the feeling of a sentence changes when you add or remove it.
Because doch has no specific meaning that can be translated to an English word, you have to learn it in context, through examples.
There are other particles common in German that I’ll analyse one by one, a few common examples being mal, auch, and schon.
You might also like another article on German explaining the lyrics (and meaning) of Leider Geil.
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How to use Doch in German — an overview
One quick disclaimer is that it’s impossible to accurately translate a particle.
The reason I’m writing this is that in my study of German (which I’m mostly doing by listening to sentences and trying to understand them) I keep coming across particles like doch in German. I think: “What does that mean?” and then have to go figure it out.
The other disclaimer is that even though these all seem to be separate uses of doch, they’re all interrelated. The categorisation I’m using is to make explaining it simple. It’s not because these are five separate uses. To a German speaker, these are all the same word.
There are five main uses of the word doch in German that I’ve encountered are:
- To counter a negative
- To say “actually”, “and yet”, “after all”, or “but”
- To tone down statements
- To seek confirmation
Doch to counter a negative
The first way in which you use doch in German to counter a negative, saying it’s actually true.
This is the most common explanation of doch. People think of children saying “are not!” “are too!” and think of “Doch!” in that context.
Using doch to counter a negative avoids ambiguity as well when someone asks you a negative question, like “are you not going to come?” (see below for this example).
Take the following examples of doch in German to counter a negative:
|Das stimmt nicht.|
Doch! Das stimmt.
|That’s not true.|
On the contrary! It is true.
|Hast du kein Geld?|
Doch (c.f. Nein)
|Do you not have money?|
Yes, I do (c.f. No, I don’t)
|Kommst also nicht zur Party?|
|So you’re not coming to the party?|
But yes, I am!
|Wollen Sie keinen Wein trinken?|
Doch, doch. (c.f. Nein)
|Don’t you want to drink wine?|
But yes, I do, I do. (c.f. “No, I don’t”.)
|Ich bin klüger als du.|
Nein, bist du nicht.
Doch, bin ich doch.
Nein, bist du nicht.
|I am smarter than you.|
No, you’re not.
Yes, I am.
No, you’re not.
Note for people who speak French or Persian: This is like si in French or چراه (cheraah) in Persian, in some circumstances. I know other languages have similar concepts.
Doch to mean “Actually”, “After all”, “And yet”, or “but”
One of the tempting mis-translations of doch in German is “but”. It’s so much more than that!
Similar to the above example of countering a negative, you use doch to make a statement that refutes an assumption. Like “I wanted to go the party, but I decided not to in the end.”
Here are examples where doch might be translated to “actually”, “and yet”, “after all”, “however”, or “but”.
You can mix and match those words a bit in English. E.g. “I recognised her after all!” could be “But I recognised her!”. I’m using the English translations to convey the meaning, not the exact translation.
|Ich habe sie doch erkannt!||I recognised her after all!|
|Das war doch Maria!||That was actually Maria!|
|Ich gehe doch nicht ins Kino.||I won’t go to the movies after all.|
|Ich komme doch erst am Mittwoch zurück.||Turns out, I will be back only by Wednesday after all.|
|Das hat sie doch gesagt.||She did say that, after all.|
|Der Film gefällt mir doch.||I actually liked that film (contrary to expectations)|
|Ich habe doch keinen Hunger mehr.||Actually, I am not hungry anymore.|
|Ich habe morgen doch Zeit.||I have time tomorrow after all. (I originally thought I didn’t)|
|Sie kam mir sehr sympathisch vor, doch auch irgendwie ein bisschen traurig.||She seemed very nice, and yet a little sad somehow, too.|
|Ich dachte, es würde regnen, und doch hat es nicht geregnet.||I thought it would rain, and yet it hasn’t.|
|Wie können Sie dieses Haus kaufen, wenn Sie doch kein Geld haben?||How are you going to buy this house when you don’t actually have money?|
|Ich habe mich entschlossen, doch nicht einkaufen zu gehen.||I’ve actually decided to not go shopping.|
|Ich würde das gerne tun, doch ich habe keine Zeit.||I would like to do that, but actually I don’t have time.|
Doch to soften a statement, or make it a question
Sometimes doch is called a “questioniser”. It is like adding “why don’t you” or “would you please” to a statement in English. For example, “Go there!” is much more forceful than “Why don’t you go there?”. Doch plays the same role.
Many languages have softeners, e.g. “a little” in English, “一下” in Chinese, or “좀” in Korean. When we sternly say “Maybe you should leave now, sir” we’re softening the statement “Leave!”. Doch plays this role of softener, too.
|Gehen Sie doch vorbei!||Why don’t you go by?|
|Wir gehen ein Bier trinken. Komm doch mit!||We are going to have a beer. Join us, why don’t you.|
|Denk doch mal nach!||Think for once why don’t you!|
|Sei doch endlich still!||Shut up, will you!|
|Ich habe dir doch gesagt, dass es nicht so ist.||I did tell you that it’s not like that. (Softens the act of correcting)|
|Komm doch her!||Do come here!|
|Geh doch!||Why don’t you just go!|
|Hör doch auf!||Give it a rest already!|
|Soll sie doch machen, was sie will.||Oh, Let her do what she wants.|
|Sei doch still!||Oh, be quiet!|
Doch to strengthen or emphasize a statement
It might seem contradictory to the above statement of doch as a softener, but you can also use doch to make a statement stronger.
It’s like “but of course!” in English. It implies “you shoudn’t even ask; the contrary is unthinkable”.
Here are a few examples of doch in German to emphasise a statement.
|Aber nicht doch!||Of course not!|
|Ja doch! Klar doch!||Yes, of course!/Sure!|
|Das ist doch super.||That is indeed awesome.|
|Du kannst das doch nicht sagen||You can really not say that.|
Doch to seek affirmation in a question
This variant of doch is similar to the rejection of a negative.
It’s a bit like asking a question that may have a negative response, but using doch to make sure the answer isn’t actually negaitve.
|Du hast doch meine Email bekommen?||You did get my email, right?|
|Wie war doch sein Name?||Just what was his name?|
|Wir könnten doch stattdessen am Mittwoch ins Kino gehen.||Instead, we could go to the cinema on Wednesday, couldn’t we?|
|Es wäre doch schade, wenn kein Platz mehr wäre.||It really would be a shame if there was no more space (wouldn’t it?)|