3

Both mean "but", but I am wondering what the difference is and if it's possible to incorrectly substitute one for the other?

Editing just to add: I am wondering what word, as an inexperienced German language learner, would I be best using for the word "but".

  • 4
    Doch has lots of different meanings. You could get better answers if you gave example sentences. – Ad Infinitum Apr 21 '17 at 7:02
  • The sentences were from duolingo, and they were as follows: "Doch Das ist night richtig" and "Aber du siehst es". I would assume that doch and aber could be used interchangeably in both of these? – Denise Price Apr 21 '17 at 23:54
  • 1
    To confuse you even more the "Aber doch." combination is also widely used. :-) – user25077 Jan 5 at 6:32
8

To say "aber and doch mean but" is way too simplified. Both words are words with lots of different meanings:

doch

  1. Adverb

    Sie sagte, sie würde daheim bleiben, aber sie ist doch gekommen.
    She came allthough she said she would stay at home.

  2. Answer particle
    Used to anser a question, containing a negation, if you want to say that the negation is not the case.

    Ich habe dir doch nicht weh getan? - Doch, das hast du.
    I hope, I didn't hurt you? - Yes, you did.

  3. Modal particle
    Modal particles are very common in German, but don't exist in English. Read more about modal particles here (in German) or on Wikipedia in German or in English.
    The usual way to translate modal particles is to ignore them.

    Mach doch was du willst!
    Do what you want!

  4. Conjunction

    Ich habe ihn eingeladen, doch er wollte nicht kommen.
    I invited him, but he didn't want to come.

  5. part of the phrase »wenn auch - so doch«

    Wenn auch die Schauspieler schlecht waren, so hat mir doch das Stück gefallen.
    Even if the actors was bad, so I still liked the play.

aber

  1. Conjunction

    Ich habe ihn eingeladen, aber er wollte nicht kommen.
    I invited him, but he didn't want to come.

    Ich habe ihn eingeladen, er aber wollte nicht kommen.
    I invited him, but he didn't want to come.

    Ich habe ihn eingeladen, er wollte aber nicht kommen.
    I invited him, but he didn't want to come.

  2. Modal particle

    Der Film war aber heftig!
    The movie was violent!

  3. adverb
    Outdated and rare, only in the phrase »aber und aber«

    Aber und aber schlug die Glocke im Turm.
    Again and again the bell stroke in the tower.

Conclusion

Both words can be translated as »but« only when they are used as conjunctions. In this case they are synonyms, so you can freely choose between them.

But as shown above, the conjunction »aber« has a special feature, that the conjunction »doch« doesn't have. In some cases you can move the subject and if you want even the finite verb of the sentence that is following aber in front of aber. This creates an extra focus on that subject:

Alle flüchteten vor dem Feind, doch einige mutige Kämpfer blieben im Dorf.

Alle flüchteten vor dem Feind, aber einige mutige Kämpfer blieben im Dorf.
Alle flüchteten vor dem Feind, einige mutige Kämpfer aber blieben im Dorf.
Alle flüchteten vor dem Feind, einige mutige Kämpfer blieben aber im Dorf.

All fled from the enemy, but some courageous fighters remained in the village.

  • +1 This is the most accurate answer. While they seem to be inconspicuous four-letter words, their use is extremely complex because they're actually different words, belonging to different word categories (one "oder" may not be the same as the other "oder"). What's hardest for foreign language learners grasp is their use as particle. If you're confused by those, don't despair and focus on the others first (conjunction and adverb first); the rest will come through practice and experience in the language. ;) – ParaDice Apr 21 '17 at 7:45
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    the adverbial use of "aber" is still present in "abermals" – jonathan.scholbach Apr 21 '17 at 7:59
  • Maybe also add that "doch" can be used as short form of "jedoch" which is case 4 in your listing. – Madjosz May 1 at 18:19
  • In case 1, doch could be translated in English as "anyway", "nevertheless" or "nonetheless". For example: "She said she would stay home, but she came nevertheless." In cases 2, 3, and 4, a colloquial English equivalent might be "only", as in: "I invited him, only he didn't want to come." This is a valid alternative to using "but" in some English sentences. – Dave Sep 24 at 12:17
1

Here we have a little sample where »doch« cannot be replaced by »aber«:

»Und du gehst heute Abend nicht auf die Party?«
»Doch!«
(»Of course!«)

And another one where »aber« cannot be replaced by »doch«:

»Dein Versprechen wirst du also tatsächlich einhalten?«
»Aber ja!«
(»Of course!«)

NB: In this last case »Ja doch!« would also be a possible answer.

  • Also "Doch, doch!" would be a valide answer to the second question (about the promise). Depending on intonation, however, the meaning would vary: falling intonation: not very convinced, with some doubt; rising intonation: totally convinced. – Christian Geiselmann Apr 21 '17 at 14:04
  • »Of course« could either be »of course I go« or »of course I don't go«, so it's an ambiguous translation of doch. – Philipp Jan 5 at 8:40
0

As a beginning German learner, I recommend that you use "but" as your default way of expressing the idea of "but" as you typically use it in English.

With experience, you'll be able to start using "doch" to contradict a negative statement. It will be a lot of fun. The entry-level use of doch goes like this:

A: We don't need raincoats today. (We can leave them at home.)

B: Yes we do! I see dark clouds!

A: Wir brauchen keine Regenjacken heute.

B: Doch! Ich sehe dunkele Wolken!

Apologies if this has some mistakes. My intention is simply to help a beginner get the hang of using "doch" in a fun way.

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