The 3 meanings of “doch”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: May 26, 2024

 

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day.
This time we will take a look at the 3 ways to use:

doch 

And by “taking a look” I mean, we’ll EXPOSE DOCH!
“Oh no, please, don’t expose me!”
Shut up doch, we will expose you! You have confused learners for long enough.
And don’t even think about paying me off like you do with all the other websites and Youtubers.
Yes, I know what’s up. You pay textbooks and teachers and websites so they keep putting out unhelpful explanations.
The truth is that that doch actually has a couple of core themes that tie all its uses together. And once we understand that, we can start using like a native speaker.
“Hahaha, not going to happen.”
Well, okay… maybe not that. But at least we won’t be confused anymore and we can explain why it fits where it fits.
So are you ready to clear up one of the biggest myt…
“Hey, Uhm… how owuld you like 10.000 dollars in you bank accou…”
Pffff, 10.000 dollars in this economy… get outta here.
“Free access to my OnlyFans?”
Enough now!

So, are you all ready to explain doch once and for all?
Then let’s jump right in….

And we’ll start with a little downer:

There is no such word as doch in English.

Family-wise, it is related to though, and if you analyze long enough, you can find some commonalities here and there. But overall, my recommendation is to NOT think in terms of translations.
Seriously, don’t do it!
Learners often, after reading up on it, go like “Hey, I think it’s like XYZ.”
But this NEVER works. Like… it always leads to using it the wrong way.
Because if there was the one good translation, someone would have found it long ago.

You see, what these little particles do is more like adding meta information to the plain “plot” of the sentence. Kind of like tone of voice or the phrasing.
So what we need to do, is the effect that doch has on a sentence… what vibe does it add.
And then we just have to search for a way to express that in English or any other language. Sometimes that might be a word, sometimes it might be the melody, and sometimes, the best match for doch might be to just skip it completely.

So don’t read this article to get a translation.
Read this to understand the soul of “doch”.

Cool.

Now, I think doch is well captured by 4 functions.
With some intense mind yoga, we could find connections between them,
but too much abstraction isn’t good. So three is fine. Here they are:

  1. Turning around a “No.”
    (the most “known” one)
  2. Toning DOWN statements
    (yes, down, not up, textbooks got to go to school)
  3. Seeking Affirmation
    (the MOST important one!)
  4. yet and but
    (mostly in writing)

We’ll go over them one by one, but you can just click to navigate.

Doch – Turning around a “No”

This is no doubt the most famous meaning of doch and the one that all sources mention. And it’s also the easiest one to showcase.
Here’s a dialogue  between Thomas and Maria, two of the interns here, which I have secretly recorded in the YourDailyGerman breakroom.

  • “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.”

Such a kindergarten.
What doch does here is basically being the direct counter to nein (or no).  Why not ja?
Well, there’s no particular reason. Ja would make sense, but in German, the idiomatic choice is doch.
Nein – doch. That’s the progression, if we can call it that.
Here’s another example, again from my secret breakroom tapes:

  • “Du hast keine Ahnung, was Sozialismus ist.”
    Doch, ich habe eine Joe Rogan Folge darüber gesehen.”
  • “You have no idea what socialism is.”
    “Oh, but I do, I saw Joe Rogan episode about it.”

Now, these examples are quite clear, I think, but doch doesn’t always have to be in the beginning of a sentence and there doesn’t even have to be a direct “No.”.
Like here for instance:

  • Ich habe morgen doch Zeit.
  • I do have time tomorrow after all. (contrary to prior belief)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

There’s no nein in the example, but the fact that doch is used means that there IS a nein in the “air”. At some point in the past, I have said that I WON’T have time tomorrow. So the answer to the question “Will I have time tomorrow?” was “No.” for a while. But then that changed, the “No.” turns into a “Yes!” and that is expressed by doch – or after all in English.
Let’s do another example:

  • Ich habe die Pizza doch gegessen.
  • I did eat the pizza, after all. (contrary to prior belief)

Same thing as before. There was a period where my answer to “Will I eat the pizza?” was “No!”.
But then, things changed. I did end up eating it. And that change is acknowledged by doch. We could take it out of the sentence, but that’d have the same effect as taking out after all in English – we’d lose that connection to the debunked belief that I wouldn’t eat it.

Cool.
So far, we’ve learned that doch reverts a negative and that that negative can be directly in the conversation, but it can also be just “canon”, part of the reality you share with someone.
And we’ve seen in the examples that translation can be too, yes or after all. Note that it’s always the same underlying theme though. English just used different ways to express it.

And that’s not all for this first doch.
Get ready to bend your minds into a pretzel….

  • Ich habe doch keinen Hunger mehr.
  • Actually, I am not hungry after all (although I thought/made you think I was).
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

What’s going on here? I mean, doch is COMBINED with a negation here, right?
Which raises the question:

Does that mean it can also turn around a positive?

Well, it sure looks that way, but it’s actually super deceiving.
You see, one of the most common mistakes learners make with doch is using it to just turn around any statement.

  • “Ich bin schneller als du.”
    “Du bist doch nicht schneller als ich.”… NOPE

And THAT does NOT work. It sounds like you BOTH believed that the first person was faster but then found out that’s not the case.
Because a doch in the middle of a sentence essentially does only this one thing: it expresses that a previously negated option is actually true after all.
And that negated option can be itself a negation.
I know this sounds super confusing but let’s take an example again. Suppose the question is “Am I hungry.
We then have two options:

A) I’m hungry.
B) I’m not hungry.

If we say that we’re hungry, then we’re REJECTING option B.
It’s “Not option B”, in a way.
Option B gets negated. And then, if we see the prices on the menu for example and we realize that we’re actually not hungry, then we’d use doch to TURN AROUND the negation for option B.
Like…

“Not Option B!! Oh… wait…  Option B after all.”

Let’s do another example.

  • Ich gehe doch nicht ins Kino.
  • I’m not going to the movies, after all.
    I won’t go to the movies after all (although I originally thought I would).

Can you see what’s going on?
Again we have two options:

A) going to the movies
B) not going to the movies 

The initial choice was “NOT B”  (aka A aka I am going) but then I read reviews on Rotten Tomato and I reconsidered, and I revert the “NOT B” to “Actually, Option B after all.  And option B just happens to have a negation in it.

Yeah, a bit twisted, but that’s really the best way to think about it, if you want to use it idiomatically.

So let’s paraphrase everything so far.

Doch is the proper answer to counter a negative statement with the positive opposite as in

“No, not X!
“On the contrary, Yes! Yes X!”

Doch can furthermore be used whenever you “revert” a choice of two options that the speaker has made… be it consciously or just by thinking a certain way.
Like… at first it was “NOT option B.” and then that changes to “Option B, after all.”
And that change of choices is important.

  • Thomas kommt nicht zur Party.
  • Thomas won’t come to the party.
  • Thomas kommt doch nicht zur Party.
  • Thomas won’t come to the party after all. (although I originally thought he would)
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

The first sentence is just stating the fact that Thomas won’t come.
The second one states the fact that he won’t come, and that the speaker’s own belief so far was the he WILL come.
And just to make sure, here’s another example.

  • Person A: “Ich bin klug.”
    Person B: “Doch, bist du nicht.” / “Du bist doch nicht klug.”

This does NOT work, because there was no consensus that I was smart. Person B never thought Person A was smart, so there’s no reverting of a common thesis.
This on the other hand works:

  • Person B:  “2+2 = ?”
    Person A: “Uhm 5??”
    Person B: “Oh, also bist du doch nicht klug.”

Here, the person B was of the opinion that the other person was smart, but then gets new information that contradicts this and that’s what doch marks. 

I think this type of doch is actually tricky to use, so if you feel unsure, better stay away from it until you’ve developped a feeling for it.
But you can definitely use the “Nein” -“Doch” version. That’s super super common and it’ll make you sound super authentic and native, so that’s definetely one worth giving a try.

Cool.

So that was the most famous use of doch.
Now let’s dig a little deeper and check out the more obscure dochs that are floating around in German sentences.
And we’ll start with doch as it is used in imperatives.

Doch – Toning down Commands

Many explanations you can find online say at some point something along the lines of “Doch intensifies a statement.”
This is nonsense, and it’s basically a sign that someone either just copied someone else’s nonsense or that they don’t really know how to linguistically analyse a sentence.

In fact, the opposite is more true. doch is often used to kind of “cushion” an imperative (sentences with “!” at the end). The doch makes them sound a little less blunt and possibly even inviting, and effect that can be achieved in English by using a question or adding one.
Let’s look at some examples. And I’ll give you two translations for each. The first one is for the German sentence without doch and the second is how the doch makes it feel.

  • Wir gehen ein Bier trinken. Komm (doch) mit!
  • We are going to have a beer. Join us!! (without “doch”)
    … . Come on, join us. / … . Wanne join us? / Why don’t you join us?
  • Denk (doch) mal nach!
  • Think for once! (without “doch”)
  • Think for once… I mean come on, why not?
  • Sei (doch) endlich still!
  • Shut up already, dammit! (without “doch”)
  • Shut up now, will you?

As you can see, this was quite the range. The first one was changed from inviting to super inviting. The second one just got added a little encouragement, and the third one is pretty harsh either way.

So a single doch cannot just change a harsh command into a friendly invitation. Phrasing and also tone of voice are really big factors here. But the doch definitely adds a “personal note”, you reveal a bit of your inner world. And that’s why it’s a little more approachable than without it.
It shows that you are “emotionally invested”, you really would like the other person to agree with you – or in case of a command, to comply.

And that brings us right over to the third use of doch. That’s the one that people throw into their statements seemingly at random, and the one that people have the most trouble explaining or using.

But it’s actually not that hard, because I think there is a pretty clearly fleshed out core idea:

Seeking Affirmation

The main meaning of “doch” –  Seeking affirmation

If people make a statement with a doch in it, and it is NOT in the context of reverting a negative, then what the doch basically does it it seeks your approval. 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.

  • Wir können doch heute Abend zum Beispiel eine DVD gucken.
  • We could watch a DVD tonight. Why not?/ Why not watch a DVD tonight
    Without: We can watch a DVD tonight.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Du weißt doch, wie sehr ich Pizza hasse.
  • Come on. You do know how much I hate pizza. (Yes? Good, so why did you bring me here to this pizza place????)
    Without: You know how much I hate pizza.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Guck mal, das da drüben ist doch dein Professor.
  • Look, it’s your professor over there now, isn’t it? (What a coincidence)
    Without: Look, that is your professor over there.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Mein neues Kleid ist doch schön.
  • So… my new dress is quite nice, don’t you think? (Agree with me please!!!)
    My new dress is nice.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  •  Ich habe dir doch gesagt, dass der Film langweilig ist.
  • See, I did tell you that the movie was gonna be boring before, didn’t I? (Concede that I was right please!!!)
    Without: I did tell you, the movie was gonna be boring.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Super Bowl? Das ist doch total langweilig.
  • Super Bowl? That IS totally boring, come on! (You must agree with me on that!!! / Or is it not after all??? )
    Without: Super Bowl? That is totally boring.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Du kannst doch nicht ohne Training einen Marathon laufen.
  • Oh please / come on. You can’t run a marathon without training. (Do you really think you can???
    Without: You cannot run a marathon without training.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

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.

  • So Thomas will NOT come late after all.
  • Thomas won’t be late, will he?
  • Thomas? HE will not be late, come on.

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” can also mean “yet, 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.

  • Ich bin müde, doch ich muss diesen Post zuende lesen.
  • I am tired but I have to finish reading this post.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

  • Ich rede schnell und doch deutlich.
  • I speak fast and yet clearly.
  • Practice pronunciation – click once to start recording and again to stop

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.

Oh, and I almost forgot… if you want practice what we talked about and see how well it works for you… I actually have a really cool exercise for that. Well, I don’t know if it’s really cool, but it’s definitely an exercise.
There’s a little recap there, too, so it’s definitely worth checking out:

The meanings of “doch” – the exercise

I hope you liked it and see you next time :)

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