Word of the Day – “doch”

picture of a unicorn claiming it existsHello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will take a look at the meaning of:

doch 

Doch is one those words that give non-natives a really hard time. It has a million-and-no translations at the same time. It is even hard to formulate a single concept for it. Yet the Germans are all doch-in‘ it out, when they talk and there is never any confusing as to which doch is intended. Today I will try to boil down this shape-shifter to as few basic concepts as possible.

I am certainly not the first one trying to explain doch. In fact there are scientific books about how to teach words like doch, kaum, halt or schon. The grammatical term for them is particles. Doch can also be an adverb or a conjunction, but let’s forget all the jargon and focus on meaning.
As I said, I am going to try to boil it down as much as possible. My main 3 sources for possible meanings are: my brain, Duden.de and Pons.de (be prepared for some serious scrolling when you go to Pons). Although all these sources are really high quality… … …what’s that weird smell… puh… like … self-praise…  although the 2 official sources are really high quality, I have to say this:

 Disclaimer: This post may not be exhaustive and may contain unclear explanation. The author can not be held responsible by the reader for any experience of being corrected, laughed at or not understood that occurred due to failed attempts to use the word doch. Use at one’s own risk.

So yeah, if you feel like I forgot something or my explanation is not clear, please let me know.
Last thing before we start. If you look at Duden or Pons or any other discussion board or dictionary, you might realize that my system here is pretty different. If you disagree with things I say, you are really welcome to comment on this. I am totally open for discussion. I just tried to make as few and coherent categories as possible. It is not necessarily the most precise.

That said let’s get to it. First let me say this: there is no such word as doch in English. Doch translates mostly to some certain phrasing. Different dictionaries offer different phrasings so the best approach is to try to understand the “vibe” doch adds to the sentence.

Doch – Countering a negative statement

First let’s look at the main meaning of doch. As this is so important I have decided to seek external expertise. Thomas and Christian are both students at the Berlin elementary school and are known for their heated discussions. We have the exclusive permission to use one of those debates.

    • Ich bin klüger als du.
    • Nein, bist du nicht.
    • Doch, bin ich doch.
    • Nein, bist du nicht.
    • Doch!
    • Nein.
    • Doch.
  • I am smarter than you.
  • No, you are not.
  • Yes I am.
  • No, are not.
  • Am too!
  • No.
  • Yes.

Doch is THE word to counter a negative statement. This is the main meaning of doch. Of course it doesn’t have to be that obvious. Let’s look at some more subtle examples.

So in these sentences doch is inverting a negative. The negative hasn’t been stated but the doch let’s you know it was there. The next examples extend this meaning of doch a bit. As seen, it is not inverting a positive but rather a negative.

So how does this fit in the inverting a negative meaning? Well you can look at it as if the statement was a double negative. For the examples above this would be as follows. The “doch” kind of cancels out the red negative.

  •  I do not have no hunger. <-is the opposite of -> I DO have no hunger.
  • I will not “not go” to the movies. <-is the opposite of -> I will, in fact, “not go” to the movies.
  • I will not “not return” on Tuesday <-is the opposite of -> I will return on Wednesday, so YES, not on Tuesday.
    (this is not proper English, I know. It’s just to show how doch cancels out one negation)

So the doch is sort of inverting a negative but this might be a little abstract.

So maybe we could summarize as follows

Doch is the proper answer to counter a negative statement with the positive opposite as in “No, not – Yes, too.” “Nein.- Doch.”.
Doch can furthermore be used whenever you state something and the statement is the opposite of what has been thought of or stated before …
BY YOU. This is important. Doch expresses that you — whatever fact you state is NEW to you and you thought it would be different if not contrary. If you never thought you would be back on Tuesday, the example above isn’t proper unless you lied and pretended to think you could make it.
So if you want to express: “Something is like this, but I thought it would be different till now.” you can use doch. Actually you ought to use doch. If you don’t, you are not expressing that this information is new to you.

The first sentence is just stating the fact that Thomas won’t come. The second one states the fact that he won’t come, plus the fact that this is contrary to what has been thought so far. These 2 things are different and if you want to say the second, you NEED doch. There is not really another way to express it.

Doch is not proper, however, to counter a positive statement that you never agreed with. So this is wrong:

  • “Ich bin klug.”
  • “Doch, bist du nicht.” / “Du bist doch nicht klug.”

While this is correct:

Here the person was of the opinion that the other person was smart. New info contradicts this impression, hence the new fact, that the other person is not smart, is stated with doch.

Doch – The Questionizer – Tone down Statements

Doch often tones the sentence in a way, that can be reproduced by adding a question in English. There are different occasions to do this. One is if you want to soften statements that would sound too direct, demanding or rough without toning them down.
(In the following examples the second English sentence is the version with doch)

The second example is still pretty rough even with the doch... but it is toned down a little in as far as that the doch stresses the fact that the person talking is really desperately waiting for the other one to shut up.

In other explanations the doch in the last example as well as some of the following are called intensifiers. Though it is certainly not wrong in some cases I chose not to go with this category. In my opinion the cases when doch intensifies are also marked by intonation. The written version does not necessarily sound intensified to me, as is the case with the last example we had.

Doch – The questionizer – Seeking affirmation

Another occasion where the tone of doch is best captured with a question is when you want the other person to agree with you, be it because you are uncertain, you want him or her to share your surprise or you want them to agree because it it so obvious to you. The German sentence looks like a statement. and without doch it is nothing more but the doch gives it a certain hunger for affirmation or response, without really asking anything openly.

The reasons why you seek affirmation can be different but what all the examples have in common, at least in my opinion, is that they are more than just a statement of a fact. Doch makes a statement into a statement that you want  the people to agree with … be it because you are in doubt, because you want to for them to be aware of the fact you said or because you think it is obvious.

Doch – meaning depends on intonation

You can say the Super Bowl sentence in a way, that you sound totally convinced and you can say it in a way that you think it is and you are now surprised to hear someone implying something else.
This dependency on melody and intonation applies for doch as a whole.

  • Thomas kommt doch nicht zu spät.

This sentence can mean 3 things.

The first one is an inverting-doch. The person who said the sentence was of the opinion Thomas was going to be late until new info indicates that he will make it in time…  To get this meaning you need to stress the doch pretty strongly.
The second sentence is an expression of uncertainty. Here the stress is on spät and the voice carries the idea of uncertainty. It is a statement but it sounds a bit like a question.
The third example is expressing that Thomas is such a punctual guy that it should be clear that he is not going to be late, how can someone not know that. The stress is on Thomas and on spät and the voice sounds certain.

This is a pretty long post and I hope you can still concentrate, but there is one more meaning to come.

Doch – yet and but

As if there wasn’t enough already, doch is also used in the sense of yet and but. I am not an English native so I am not certain as to how close these 2 words are but for a German they kind of have overlapping parts… and one of them is doch.

So… this was the longest post so far. To sum it up, doch is the proper answer in the Yes-No game, it can be used to invert statements, it can mean either yet or but, it can tone down statements and it can turn a mere statement into a statement that seeks affirmation… for whatever reason.

I really hope this is helpful for you. If you have any questions just leave me a comment. If you totally disagree with me, please leave me a comment. If I have forgotten something, please leave me a comment. I will add it to the article, if necessary. And if you have seen a unicorn, please leave me a comment too.

I hope you liked it and see you next time… with something easier… like Auto or  Computer… kidding.. it won’t be something that obvious :)

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Aaron

This is brilliant – thanks!

Sergey

Doch, that was well explained

Periannan Chandrasekaran
Periannan Chandrasekaran

Hi
This was very good and crystallized the essence of doch for me.
And I realized then that it is really very well matched by the English particles “though”. It is, just as the German “doch”, used in difficult to translate senses. “I liked the movie though” etc.
It looks like the two are indeed from the same Proto-Germanic word and so it is not a surprise.
I really thank you very much and congratulate you for having the ability to clarify such difficult word very easily.

Heather
Heather

Doch has been confusing since the first time I heard it. Ive been trying to translate is using google, books, dictionaries, internet, anything I can get my hands on and none of it made sense till I found you! Thank you for clearing this up for me. It is very much appreciated!

Adana
Adana

Wonderful!!!!! I have been asking so many people for an explanation…and most of them can’t tell me! I am eternally grateful.

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Klaus Wessel
Klaus Wessel

Once you know how to use “doch” you’ve taken a huge step.
It is a tremendously communicative word.

Klaus Wessel
Klaus Wessel

Being a German I found it totally fascinating – I’ve never really reflected on this.
We all use “doch” again and again – and actually you won’t find any conversation without it –
but only now have I really understood what a complex word that is. Funny. Thank you.
A German lesson for a German. Deutschstunde für Deutsche.

Klaus Wessel
Klaus Wessel

One may also add that “doch” at times may reveal a slight tone of warning, if not even menace. Often in questions:
“Sie werden doch wohl die Rechnung bezahlt haben?” – meaning: “Might for you in case you didn’t.”
or “Du wirst doch wohl nicht nach fünf Bier noch Auto fahren ?” – implying a serious warning -e.g. “I’ll stop you – You might have an accident.” etc –

Klaus Wessel
Klaus Wessel

Oh yes, “eben” is definitely one of my favourites.

Atef
Atef

What if you try to learn one Arabic word!!! I think you would think of German as a very simple and easy language!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

I’m a beginner and just came across the imperative mode with my book, where – without explanation – ‘doch’ is used in nearly each sentences, as part of the imperative. Eg.: “Es ist Kalt. – Mach doch das Fenster zu!” How can I fit this usage of ‘doch’ into the above listed examples?

toan
toan

I think u did a good job. but your english is weird.

Mark
Mark

This is incredibly helpful, thank you!

Val Peacock
Val Peacock

Very helpful! Will I ever master German???

Anji
Anji

I wish I had read an explanation about ‘doch’ a long time ago. I have struggled (especially when at university) to make sense of some sentences with ‘doch’ sat in the middle of it as if it was just a throwaway word. This was a brilliant explanation of its different uses, and much easier to understand.

Ivan

i was completely confused when i was looking for some information in the internet about this modal particles. wikipedia, some german language forums and the others such as yahoo answers, but it didn’t really helped me out.

what i want to say is thank you very much for giving us this explanation.

Nathan
Nathan

This was awesome! You did an excellent job explaining something as complicated as this word! I plan on reading this article at least once a day for the next week so I can drill doch’s uses into my brain :D.
Is there a rule for where doch goes in a sentence, or does it change with usage? I see you using it in sort of an adverb or conjunction position.
Also, I don’t know if you ever got any feedback on the overlapping of ‘but’ and ‘yet’ in English. So here is my opinion.
For your examples, the uses are pretty interchangeable: “I am tired, but I have to finish reading this post.” and: “I speak fast and yet clearly.”
Just off the top of my head, I’d say the meaning of the first sentence might change a little bit if you used ‘yet’ instead of ‘but’, but the second sentence would stay the same.
Kind of like what you’ve been saying, it’s all about tone, but I’d use ‘but’ if I was dreading finishing reading the article or was being forced to, and I’d use ‘yet’ if I was looking forward to it.

Nathan
Nathan

Das ist gut, dass ich mit Großmütter auf Deutsch sprechen kann, denn Großmütter sind aber schön! ;) Ich habe keine Ahnung gehabt, dass ‘aber’ das bedeutet. Also die Antworte für diese Frage ist “Ich spreche auf (nur der Name der Sprache).”?
Surprisingly, ‘it’ can be substituted for the name of a language occasionally.
Your example for example, I think is pretty reasonable sounding in English. You could say however:
“Yes, I can speak it (perfectly), but I can’t write (in) it.” For some reason, to my ears at least, adding the words ‘perfectly’ (or any other adverb for that matter) and ‘in’ makes the ‘it’ completely reasonable, but either way the sentence seems fine to me. Lol. (me) <——- obviously not a grammar expert so don't take my word for it.
Thanks again for all the info! Kann ich dich fragen, do you type all these on your free-time? If so, that is amazing.

Bill
Bill

Great explanation! FYI, your second sentence from the last: “And if you have seen a unicorn, please leave me a comment to.” The “to” should be “too,”
which means “also.” It sounds picky but you seemed to indicate that you would appreciate the subtle differences in English. Thus, the sentence should read: “And if you have seen a unicorn, please leave me a comment too.”

NN
NN

Good explanation of doch :)

healed4ever

May I ask you a question? I have a book, written in my language, named ‘Deutche Sätze’, and there are some words of the author making me confused because he seem to contradict himself.

At first, he said:

1, ‘Er möchte das nicht als Lehrer sagen’ means ‘Not as a doctor, he wants to say that’

2, ‘Er möchte das als Lehrer nicht sagen’ means ‘As a doctor, he doesn’t want to say that’

Then, he said:

3, ‘Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen’ means ‘As a doctor, I don’t want to say that’

4, ‘Ich möchte das als kein Arzt sagen’ means ‘Being not a doctor, I want to say that’

He also has two other example for this:

‘Er liebt sie nicht’ means ‘He doesn’t love her’

‘Er liebt nicht sie’ means ‘He doesn’t this girl (but another one)’