5

Below I quote two groups of similar sentences. I’d like to ask for evaluation of these alternatives in terms of their power of expression and style; i.e. in each group, which one is more expressive and which one is better in style?

Group A

  1. Er tat alles, um rechtzeitig fertig zu sein, doch es gelang ihm nicht.

  2. Er tat alles, um rechtzeitig fertig zu sein, doch gelang es ihm nicht.

Group B

  1. Er versuchte es mehrfach, doch es misslang immer wieder.

  2. Er versuchte es mehrfach, doch misslang es immer wieder.

  • I generally agree with tofro. The only difference is adverbial versus conjunctional usage of doch and that distinction alone doesn’t change anything, really. – Jan May 1 '16 at 13:25
  • By the way, a semicolon may be placed before the conjunction doch in order to indicate a degree of separation greater than that marked by the comma (especially in the examples of Group A). – Faded Giant May 2 '16 at 10:38
4

In your specific examples, there is neither a difference in style nor in what the sentences express. They are pretty much equivalent.

Changing word order in German can be used to put emphasis on certain parts of the sentence, but it doesn't necessarily need to (especially if the parts of the sentence being emphasized align perfectly with the general meaning). The emphasis is put on the part of the sentence that ends up closest (or, in most sentences, directly next) to the conjunction.

I'll try to explain this by changing your sentence to

Er versuchte es mehrfach, doch ihm gelang es nicht.

Here, the "ihm" is closest to the "doch", which could be expressing it was "his" problem (maybe someone else would have succeeded).

Er versuchte es mehrfach, doch es gelang ihm nicht.

Is pretty much neutral, the emphasis is on "es", which aligns with the overall meaning of the sentence. (If "es" would be kind of non-aligned with the general expression - maybe, because "es" was dead simple - it might be different, but here, without further context, it apparently is).

Er versuchte es mehrfach, doch gelang es ihm nicht.

Is pretty much the same - The emphasis (now on the predicate) is again aligned with the overall meaning of the sentence.

It might be worth mentioning that the emphasis is rather subtile and might not even be noticed by a large amount of native speakers - So it is maybe slightly beyond the scope of someone not using German as a first language (Here the rule of thumb is: If you have to think about it, disregard it - in favor of more fluent speech).

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0

Just in addition to tofro's answer: The second options are slightly more unusual ("markiert" as German linguists say) and also a little more elegant (at least in group B), as the stresses follow a certain rhythm (stresses in bold):

... doch misslang es immer wieder

vs.

... doch es misslang immer wieder.

With two stresses in a row, the speaker even has to pause a little bit between misslang and immer.

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  • »Das Gesicht lächelt mich an.« Where is the problem? – Jan May 2 '16 at 14:55
  • There is no problem at all, it's just not very rhythmic. – dodi May 31 '17 at 9:38

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