Filler words in German: ja, doch, mal | German Language Blog

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The words “mal”, “ja”, and “doch” in German speech Posted by on Jun 13, 2011 in Language

There are three words in German that are frequently used as filler words in speech. That is to say, they are inserted in a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence but only the tone of voice, so to speak. These words are: “mal”, “ja”, and “doch”.

 

1. “ mal”

You can hear very often that Germans insert the word “mal” in their utterances, like:

Gib mir mal den Stift. – Give me the pen.

Geh mal zur Seite. – Step aside.

Steh mal auf. – Stand up.

In the examples above, “mal” is the colloquial form of “einmal” (once). Germans insert this word, for example, to make a command sound more polite. Such constructions are more time-saving and less complex than politer forms like “Würdest du mir den Stift geben?” (Would you hand me the pen?), “Könntest du mir den Stift geben?” (Could you hand me the pen?), and “Kannst du mir den Stift geben.” (Can you hand me the pen.). Additionally, the word “mal” does also modify the speech flow and the intonation of the utterance, which causes to make it sound friendlier and not too harsh and commanding.

 

2. “ja”

The German word “ja” means, first of all, “yes” in English and it is also frequently used as a filler word in German random speech.

a) Das ist ja mein Buch. – This is my book.

b) Da hast du ja Glück gehabt. – You were in luck.

c) Das kannst du ja nicht wissen. – You cannot know that.

Here, the meaning of “ja” can be compared to the meaning of “indeed”. By inserting “ja” you emphasize your own personal conviction that something is true, so to say. This is especially applicable to sentences b) and c). In sentence a) the word “ja” expresses rather surprise. For example, let’s say, I am missing one of my books. One day I am at my friend’s place and I spot it there, then I would say “Das ist ja mein Buch!” (Hey, this is my book!).

 

3. “doch”

The word “doch” has many translations in English. It can mean “however”, “yet”, “still”, “nevertheless”, “but”, “after all”, and “on the contrary”. But when it is inserted in a sentence like from the above types, then it has the function of contradicting a negative question, statement or behavior.

Gib mir doch den Stift. (You haven’t given me the pen yet. So, do it now!)

Geh doch zur Seite. (You haven’t stepped aside yet. So, do it now!)

Steh doch auf. (You haven’t stood up yet. So, do it now!)

Das ist doch meine Buch. (This is not your book because it is mine!)

Da hast du doch Glück gehabt. (You didn’t have bad luck! You were lucky!)

Das kannst du doch nicht wissen. (You know a lot but this time you cannot know it!)

Last but not least, so when you will ever come across similar utterances, don’t be falsely alarmed that you have discovered new aspect of grammar. None of these three words will ever modify the meaning of a sentence in a way that it is impossible for you understand it not at all.

 

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About the Author:Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


Comments:

  1. Amanda:

    Ehm… I loved this post but… in the last few sentences it is written *Das ist doch meine Buch.*…. meinE Buch?? Sorry, I am always mistaken with Genus auf Deutsch, but I am now really wonndering if it is not supposed to be “mein Buch”??
    Thank you!

  2. Oliver:

    “Das ist doch meine Buch”

    Is that right?! What is modifying Buch so that it is “meine”?

  3. Peter:

    There is a small error (probably just a typo) in the sentence „Das ist doch meine Buch” („mein” being correct).

    Furthermore – and with all due respect – I somewhat disagree with the statement that the German word „mal” could be used „to make a command sound more polite”. In my opinion the word “bitte” would be more suitable for that purpose, whereas „mal”, while certainly in a colloquial way, stresses the urgency of the matter.

    „Steh auf” – a simple command
    „Steh bitte auf” – a polite command
    „Steh mal auf!” – a colloquial command expressing urgency
    „Steh doch mal auf!” – the same as before, but even stronger
    „Steh doch mal bitte auf!“ – at least as strong as the previous one, but pretending to be polite

  4. pauline:

    Fantastic post! Thanks a lot 🙂

  5. Sarah:

    I remember really struggling with understanding all of the “mal”s I heard when I first moved to Germany. Thanks for this post!

  6. Paul:

    Yes, thank you very much for bringing additional clarity to this topic.

  7. Rihan:

    Da hast du doch Glück gehabt ,, das bedeutet ,, er hatte Glück oder nicht?

  8. Ena:

    Very good explanations, Peter! Thank you!

  9. Dave:

    Here’s one that I hear a lot that baffles me. “bloss” or “blos” or “bloß” not sure how it’s spelled. Can you give me some insight? Thanks. Love the blog.

  10. Baccalaureus:

    Thos fillers tend to come in clusters: “Das hat ja doch mal gut geklappt!” – Now this did go well, didn’t it?”

  11. Pete:

    The word bloß means (only)
    Example bloß du (only you )

  12. Shad:

    Oh MAN German is fun sometimes, as long as My English translation into German senteces into works, then it is fun, but these translation does not work always 🙁

  13. Jordan Richards:

    Danke schön! Das war ja ein gutes Artikel! ;D

  14. Jordan Richards:

    Ich habe eine Frage über Amerikanische Deutsch…. ich weiß wie schrecklich muss das klingen. Lol ein Freund wer ist Amerikaner, auch wie mich und er hat mir geredet das man kann das Wort ,,gringe” im Platz ,,danke” benutzen. Aber ich habe das Wort in keinerlei Wörterbuch gesehen, und er spricht kein Deutsch (aber viele Amerikaner, wie mich, glauben sie ein bisschen Deutsch kennen, aber meistens wissen nur die schmutzigsten Worte.
    Aber meine Frage ist, sind ein oder mehr diese Wörter aktuell Wörter?? Meine Professorin hat sie uns übersprechen.