Dann kann ich jetzt endlich was abarbeiten.

I think I understand this sentence except for the use of was:

Now I can finally work.

But I can’t determine how the was changes either the meaning or the tone of the sentence.

Is it a modal particle here? Or does it actually change the meaning from what I think this means?

  • 2
    Just a general remark... "was" is never a modal particle... it's always either a question word or short for "etwas"
    – Emanuel
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 13:29

3 Answers 3


Was is short for etwas (something) here and is the required object for abarbeiten. Thus the sentence means

Now I can finally work some things off.

or more freely:

Now I can finally get some work done.

  • Ah! I'll have to look out for this in the future. I always see was as what. Thanks!
    – Martin
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 14:15

In this example, was is an abbreviation of etwas. So it's a normal object, not a modal particle.


Addition to the given answer: "was" as abbreviation for "etwas" is mainly colloquially used. See also http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/etwas.

In professional writing you should better avoid it (citations and direct speech excluded), if not the overall writing style is colloquial and thus "demands" it.

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