1

I am trying to understand the meaning 3a of "ja" in Duden:

drückt im Aussagesatz eine resümierende Feststellung aus, weist auf etwas Bekanntes hin oder dient der Begründung für ein nicht explizites Geschehen oder für etwas Allgemeingültiges; doch, bekanntlich

My questions about this:

  • I do not understand how "summarized statement" , "justification for a non-explicit event" and "points to something known/universally valid" are related. It seems to me they are totally different meanings grouped in one big definition. Could someone explain it better?

  • The only meaning I think I can partly understand is "points to something known/universally valid". Would that add a "as you know" / "as everybody knows" to the sentence? Anyway, these are very distinct meanings. How do I know which of both is meant in a sentence?

The corresponding Duden examples are:

  • ich komme ja schon
  • das habe ich ja gewusst
  • du kennst ihn ja
  • sie kommt ja immer zu spät
  • er kann sichs ja leisten

I'd appreciate if you could explain the meaning of "ja" in each of them.

2

You are correct. Learning the use of modal particles from rules is frustrating. They are pretty synthetic. I don't think any German speaker use particles based on such rules. It's all about the right feeling for the mood.

Ich komme schon. — I'm on my way.

Ich komme ja schon. — It may be a surprise to you but I'm on my way.


Das habe ich gewusst. — I knew it.

Das habe ich ja gewusst. — It didn't come to me as a surprise as I knew it.


Du kennst ihn. – You know him.

Du kennst ihn ja. – It's no surprise to you as you know him.


Sie kommt immer zu spät. — She's always late.

Sie kommt ja immer zu spät. — In case you wonder, she's always late.


Er kann sich's leisten. — He can spend that much.

Er kann sich's ja leisten. — In case you wonder, he can spend that much.

The common topic in all these examples is the surprise about a fact, or the lack thereof. To make it even worse, the particle can mean both the phrases I tried to translate or the opposite, depending on the common knowledge the speaker and the listener share about the facts talked about.

I recommend to remember the particle ja as a smoke screen. Whether you are surprised depends on whether you belong to the spectators or the troupe.

  • Either I’m misunderstanding your post, or I would feel like it’s the opposite of what you’re describing with your bold sections. »Du kennst ihn.« implies that whoever »Du« is did not know that they know »ihn«. Whereas »Du kennst ihn ja« implies that »Du« knows that they know »ihn«. Which concurs with the meaning weist auf etwas Bekanntes hin from the Duden. – Raketenolli Jun 3 '19 at 9:38
  • Why "ja" refers to the listener in almost all examples, but it refers to the speaker in "Das habe ich ja gewusst"? Couldn't it mean "That may be a surprise to you, but I already knew that" or "It is not a surprise to you that I already knew that" ? How do I pick the correct meaning? – Alan Evangelista Jun 3 '19 at 11:06
  • It can always mean both. As I wrote, the shared knowledge of speaker and listener is important to guess the meaning. That's also the reason why they are only seldom used in writing. Modal particles only sprinkle a certain mood (here: surprise) over the sentence. – Janka Jun 3 '19 at 12:19
  • @Raketenolli: I don't see how your understanding contradicts: It's no surprise to you as you know him. – Janka Jun 3 '19 at 12:21
  • You were clear in your answer that "ja" in a sentence indicates surprise or lack of surprise depending on the knowledge of speaker/listener. You have not explicitly explained that the person to whom "ja" refers to may also vary depending on that knowledge. Now it is clear to me, although it seems tricky to usefully communicate with such an ambiguous particle. Thanks! – Alan Evangelista Jun 3 '19 at 22:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.