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Some irrelevant uses of German ja:

  • Emphatic particle in imperatives:

Geht ja nicht in den Wald!

Mach ja deine Hausaufgaben!

  • In exclamative sentences:

Das ist ja interessant!

My questions are:

  1. Am I allowed to use "ja" whenever I want to emphasize my sentence? For example, when I want to say "the world is really unjust", "Die Welt is ja ungerecht" has exactly the same meaning?

  2. Is it rude to use "ja" in imperative form? does it have negative connotation?

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IMHO, "ja" is used as a Modalpartikel (der) in the cases you describe. – FUZxxl Jun 25 '11 at 13:44
@FUZxxl: Do you mean to say it is "der Modalpartikel"? As I learnt on this site, it's "die Partikel". – Hendrik Vogt Jun 25 '11 at 14:24
@Vogt Ah... I always say der Partikel, but some others say die Partikel. I don't know which one of those two is "correct". – FUZxxl Jun 25 '11 at 14:45
@FUZxxl (please use @Hendrik to notify me): And some say das Partikel :-) – Hendrik Vogt Jun 25 '11 at 17:09
@Hendrik Sorry, I skipped the first part of your name by accident. It's like die / der / das Nutella... :) – FUZxxl Jun 25 '11 at 17:12
up vote 8 down vote accepted
  1. The role of "ja" is less of emphasis than of surprise: "Wusstest du, dass Tom in seiner Jugend einer der besten Schachspieler Deutschlands war?" "Das ist ja interessant!".

    It is also often used to express irony, for example if someone shares some gossip that you really don't care about, you could say (in a slightly bored manner) "Das ist ja interessant!"

    In your example it would probably be better to say "Die Welt ist wirklich ungerecht!" (or more colloquially "Die Welt ist echt ungerecht!").

  2. This form often comes across as rude and patronizing. Even when used by adults towards children it makes the adult come across as fairly upset. It's probably better to avoid it altogether, except in fictional writing. More polite alternatives would be:

    Geht bitte nicht in den Wald.

    Mach bitte deine Hausaufgaben.

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"Leg den Schlagstock jetzt bitte weg, ja?" ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 26 '11 at 1:38
Well, I guess there's a point where politeness may not be the goal ;) – puzzle Jun 26 '11 at 9:32
"Sven-Oliver, hör jetzt bitte auf den fremden Mann zu treten" (with apologies to anyone here actually named S-O ;D) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 26 '11 at 12:39

I think it depends on whether you are on du or on Sie.

I would only use it in context of Sie, if I want to be offensive

Kommen Sie mir ja nicht blöd.

But I find noting wrong in forbidding a child to go alone into the wood

Geh ja nicht in den Wald!

or to caution my coworkers

Mach ja eine Sicherung von deinen Daten.

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