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Someone wrote me this sentence (a native speaker):

Mein Deutsch ist aber noch nicht so gut.

Shoudn't "aber" stay in the beginning of the sentence? Like:

Aber mein Deutsch ist noch nicht so gut.

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1  
Both are correct, as far as I know. But I also wait for an authoritative answer. I'd expect a slightly, subtely different effect caused by changing the natural (0th.) place for aber. Ich bin aber nicht sicher :ṕ –  c.p. Dec 21 '13 at 1:49

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Aber is being used here as a modal particle rather an a coordinating conjunction. When used like it is in your example, it has a similar meaning to if it were used a conjunction

I'd say "Mein Deutsch ist aber noch nicht so gut" roughly translates to

My German isn't really that good yet, though.

When you use aber as a modal particle it has 3 meanings/uses

1) In a statement, aber expresses a surprised reaction

Der Film war aber gut! = The film was good!

1a) ja can also be used to express surprise, but aber expresses surprise to the degree that something is a certain quality

Der Kaffee ist aber heiß!> the coffee is hotter than you expected

Der Kaffee ist ja heiß! > you expected the coffee that wouldn't be hot (warm, iced, etc)

2) aber can be used to express contradiction: in this manner the meaning is very similar to the meaning when used as a conjunction

Mein Freund kam aber nicht = My friend didn't come though

Sie muss uns aber gesehen haben = But she must have seen us

3) When used in exclamations, aber can stress the speaker's opinion

Aber nein! = Of course not!

Aber Kinder! = Now, now, children!

Source: Durrell, Martin. Hammer's German Grammar and Usage. 5 e.d.

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hmmm... it is actually not a modal particle but simply an adverb with the same function that the subordinating conjunction has. "Aber" can be a modal particle but only in exclamations (see your examples 1,1a and 3). Then it expresses surprise. This is theoretically possible here too, but I am 99,9% certain that the person meant a simple "but".... just at a different position. Just as in example 2. The only difference between the adverb "aber" and the conju. is in fact the position. But the fact that I actually can move it to position 1 tells us that it is NOT a particle. Those can't ever be 1. –  Emanuel Dec 21 '13 at 20:49
    
So while the answer contains a lot of correct information I have to give -1 because the main statement is not correct :) –  Emanuel Dec 21 '13 at 20:50

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