One example of such a modal particle is mal in

Schau mal.

Another example is denn in

Was soll denn das?

Spoken German is awash in such modal particles. My question about them is always the same: how exactly does the meaning of the utterance change when that modal particle is omitted?

Does anyone know of a book that addresses this question?

(I'd prefer a book in English, but one in German would be OK too. Spanish and French would also be OK.)


2 Answers 2


From online resources there is an almost complete list of particles including usage examples from canoonet. On further search of any particle from these lists Canoonet will present direct links to word grammar, and also to a variety of dictionaries to further look up meanings.

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If we follow these links for the adverbial particle mal we can find

By using a combination of these searches I am confident you will find all necessary information on the usage and meaning of any particle.

If still in doubt you may find the information you got there helpful to formulate a good question on German Language Stack Exchange.

  • Sorry, that's not very helpful. "look once" does not explain the meaning, and synonym does not mean comes from; anyhow. It's very possible that ma' had a separate sense and was lexed together with ma, yielding the synonym (hypercorrected?) einmal through the assumption that *mal was a reduction. However ma- (which it sounds like in many dialects), could come from just about anything. Just comparing "Vorsicht!", "Achtung!" may make sense of a comparison to PIE -mn (noun forming suffix). Indeed, I believe "man" can be found as a variant. Cp. "Scheiße, man", "Scheiße noch eins".
    – vectory
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 22:20
  • ... the question is for material, which explains (or rather excludes) things such as that in sufficient detail. DWDS links mal to -mal and Mal, and with the sense "point in time" one may gleam a sense "[look, do ...] now", but that relies on native speaker intuition (including "Mach das schon mal" etc., En. "at once") and is for better or worse still just own speculation. The canoo link is good, though, thanks.
    – vectory
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 22:34

For a book, I'd recommend Hammer's German Grammar and Usage, which provides an extensive treatment of the major points of German grammar and usage, including an entire section dedicated to modal particles (with 36 words each getting a subsection of its own).

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