When do we use the word mal after a verb? Does it change the meaning?
For example: what is the difference between the following sentences.
Guck mal. Frag mal.
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The addition of the word 'mal' does not directly change the meaning in this context. It does, however, change the underlying tone of the statement.
A sentence like
Frag mal dort nach.
makes your statement more of a proposition while
Frag dort nach.
sounds more like a direct instruction.
This is the reason why the configuration Verb+'mal' is more used in an informal context. For example, if a student asks another a question during classes, he would answer:
Weiß nicht. Frag mal den Lehrer.
Without the 'mal' this would sound distant and maybe a bit annoyed.
In contrast, the word 'mal' is usually avoided in very formal situations where you tend to distance yourself from the converstational partner for politeness:
Für weitere Informationen fragen Sie Herrn XY.
So in conclusion if you speak with a friend or someone you know well, always use the 'mal'. If you want to be polite (for example in official correspondence), try to avoid it as much as possible.
"Guck" and "frag" are imperative forms of their respective verbs. That is to say that they are commands.
The term "mal" is a "softener" in this context. When placed behind commands like "guck" and "frag" as "guck mal," and "frag mal," it turns those commands into suggestions.
The effect of "mal" is more or less the opposite of "doch" (the latter is used for emphasis, the former for de emphasis.)