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I was reading a German text earlier, and in the dialogue was a character who said:

Ich vermute, dass er lügt, bin mir aber nicht sicher.

I suspect that he's lying, but I can't be sure

Now, I was confused about the position of the "aber".

As "aber" would be a conjunctions in the sentence, I expected it to be the word following the comma:

Ich vermute, dass er lügt, aber (ich) bin mir nicht sicher.

I worked out that "sicher sein" means to be certain and "mir" is simply the object the verb refers to.

However, I can't (as hard as I try) seem to work out why "aber" comes way after the comma.

Another example that also confused me:

Ich war noch nie in Italien, kann es mir aber als ein schönes Land vorstellen.

I've never been to Italy, but I can imagine it as a beautiful country

or more literally

I've never been to Italy, but I imagine it is a beautiful country.

Why is the "aber" displaced so far down the sentence, even though it is a conjunctions?

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    You've recognized the ideosyncratic behaviour of aber: it ocurs within the co-ordinated clause even though it still functions as a cordination. That's all you need to know to use it successfully. I'm afraid asking "Why does this word behave like that and not others?" is no more useful than asking "Why does aber begin with an a?" Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 7:32
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    The word aber is either a conjunction, an adverb or a particle. Choose your poison. English has those, too: See e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conjunctive_adverb
    – Janka
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 8:46
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    Note your chosen positions of the conjunction are not the only valid ones: Ich war noch nie in Italien, aber kann...", "Ich war noch nie in Italien, kann mir aber...." and "Ich war noch nie in Italien, kann aber mir..." all work and are valid. German is much more flexible in possible word order than English.
    – tofro
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 10:53
  • Is mir the subject? That would explain why it would be there at all when the English equivalent isn't reflexive and a non-reflexive variant exists in German as well. I would have said I was the subject, but am not sure anymore, I am myself really not sure. I'm gonna have me some sure tee now.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 1:41

1 Answer 1

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My first thought was: in this case aber appears as an adverb.

Look up: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/aber

“Usage:

Unlike most other conjunctions, aber need not be the first word of a clause: Ich bin dafür, er aber lehnt es ab. — “I’m in favour, but he rejects it.” In such a construction, aber might be considered an adverb, though the usual interpretation is that it is still a conjunction”

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  • You could also say that a conjunction is an adverb (for the phrase, for the verb of a phrase). You can also say "Er lehnt es aber ab". The concept of a conjunction is not very meaningful, if you think of a Normal form composed of AND, OR and NOT, and sentences as implicitly bound by AND or OR, depending on whether you have an anaphora. Anyhow, this use of "aber" exists in English too: "He is but the only one"; "all but him", the latter is a preposition, apparently.
    – vectory
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 1:10
  • I just looked up aber in the Duden dictionary. Aber is indeed an adverb in this example. As native German speaker and can say that [ich] bin mir aber nicht sicher feels more natural than aber [ich] bin mir nicht sicher - especially in spoken language. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 8:11
  • The mother of a friend of mine used to say: „Es changiert nüt!“ („It doesn‘t change anything!“ Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 8:27

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