I know aber, like doch, means but. Nonetheless, I'm quite confused about what aber is supposed to mean in this following sentence:

Das machst du aber ohne mich

I found this sentence in a Grammar book, and it says the translation is 'you can that on your own' (literal translation being something like, 'you can do that without me). But I still don't get it :/


In the sentence

Das machst du aber ohne mich.

the word aber isn't a conjuction but a modal particle. Their purpose is to change the mood of the sentence.

The tricky part is, there isn't a rule which particle means what. You have to remember them by phrase.

Das machst du ohne mich.

Do it without me, I don't want to get involved, by any chance.

Das machst du aber ohne mich.

Do it without me, I don't want to get involved, by any chance.

You can do it without my help.

Das machst du doch (aber) ohne mich.

Das machst du aber doch ohne mich.

You can do it without my help

Sadly, you are not going to invite me.

In this example you can see how important modal particles are to understand the meaning of a German sentence. They are used all the time, in speech even more, so listen to Germans speaking to each other.

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In dem genannten Satz repräsentiert das »aber« eine gewisse Entschiedenheit, mit der der Sprecher bei etwas nicht mitwirken will.

Beispiel 1

A und B gehen spazieren. A will ein paar schöne Blumen aus einem Garten reißen, der ihm nicht gehört. B sagt:

Das machst du aber ohne mich.

B hätte auch sagen können:

Glaub ja/bloß nicht, dass ich da mitmache.

Beispiel 2

Das Kind kommt mit zwei Rechenaufgaben zur Mutter. Beide lösen gemeinsam Aufgabe 1. Bei Aufgabe 2 erkennt die Mutter eine große Ähnlichkeit zu Aufgabe 1 und sagt:

Das machst du aber ohne mich.

Sie hätte auch sagen können:

Das kannst du jetzt allein, da muss ich dir nicht helfen.

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Pollitzer and Janka are right.

Since you seem to have trouble understanding modal particles (which is perfectly natural since it's tricky and can't be learned by heart) I'd like to offer some help.

  • In German and Japanese, plenty of modal particles are used whereas f.i. in French, hardly any are used. So don't get discouraged if you're a French native speaker and be glad if Japanese's your native tongue.
  • They're widely used in spoken German, hardly used in written German (although Social Media tends to be an exception to this rule).
  • Adding or excluding a modal particle does not change the core statement of the sentence! As a consequence, if you think you understood the whole sentence but there's just one word irritating you it's probably a modal particle therefore there's no reason to get worried you didn't get it (I guess this is helpful once you start having conversations with native speakers).
  • They can be understood as additional information regarding the mood/mind-set/knowledge/and so on of the speaker.

I found this article, it's an overview of 9 modal particles used for general affirmation, negation or intensification and comes with very good/realistic illustrative sentences. Once you master those you should be covered for all kinds of conversations with native speakers from Germany and Austria (unfortunately I'm not that familiar with Swiss German so I can't guarantee you that).

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