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I was watching Folge 03 and they said:

Ab wann kann man denn Talent erkennen?

I understood the question, but what is denn doing here?

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  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_particle
    – Carsten S
    Jan 30, 2017 at 13:20
  • If only that link (or the link in it) said anything about "denn"
    – sgf
    Jan 30, 2017 at 19:50
  • It is a modal particle. There are lots of questions with good answers about this topic here: german.stackexchange.com/search?q=Modalpartikel Feb 1, 2017 at 7:16
  • How is this a duplicate? Wouldn't we expect different modal particles to do different thinks? (After all, I couldn't very well say "Ab wann kann man doch Talent erkennen?") I suggest to reopen this question.
    – sgf
    Feb 3, 2017 at 23:48

3 Answers 3

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In questions 'denn' is often a matter of emphasizing, suggesting a nuance of scepticism or reservation. In your case the question might suggest doubt that talent can be recognised at all.

A nearly synonym sentence would be "Ab wann kann man Talent überhaupt erkennen?" A proper translation to english might be "When can we recognize talent at all?"

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This is one of the elusive German Abtönungspartikeln. If you use it in a question, the implication is that you are questioning a subtly more general point than the one that was under discussion before. Example:

Ich finde Cindy ziemlich talentlos. = I think Cindy isn't very talented.

This is a statement about an individual.

Und Bert? = What about Bert?

This is a question about another individual.

But with denn:

Woran erkennt man denn Talent? = What is talent, anyway?

This moves the discussion in a more general direction.

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I believe (and I am a native speaker) that denn here indicates that the speaker considers the fact that after some point talent can be recognised as a given. (Also it seems more natural if there has been a previous utterance to that effect.) The same utterance without denn sounds a lot less connected with what has been said before (It could be the title of a book, for instance), while with denn it seems to relate to the context.

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