I am trying to translate a text from German to English. In the original text, there is this sentence:

Er hat leichte Zweifel, ob das Projekt nicht doch zu einem schlechten Ausgang führen würde.

How could the part of "ob nicht doch" be translated? Is there an equivalent in English?


I must say, I had to read it a few times to get the meaning, so I may not have nailed it.

"He has a vague doubt whether the project wouldn't end badly after all" This is literal but not "good" English.

"He worries a bit that the project might end badly after all." More English in style.

edit: correct tense

  • 1
    Thank you! That was very helpful. – martinafs Jun 10 at 8:34
  • So somebody please explain what I did to deserve a downvote? – RedSonja Jun 10 at 10:52
  • Dunno, I think you did nail it, translating a German idiomatic expression into plain English. Only 'hat' is present tense, but that's not decisive. – a_donda Jun 10 at 11:48

I'll assume you know the meaning of the rest of the sentence. Then

"Er hat leichte Zweifel, ob das Projekt nicht doch zu einem schlechten Ausgang führen würde"

would mean that the subject er emits his judgement by first time. If you add doch,

"Er hat leichte Zweifel, ob das Projekt nicht doch zu einem schlechten Ausgang führen würde"

would mean that the subject already had thought that the project would end with safety, but then he re-analyzes it and his opinion rather changes.

  • Thank you! That clarifies the meaning for me. Is there a similar saying in English? How would I express this in English in a sentence? – martinafs Jun 10 at 8:17
  • Probablly using on a second thought. But I'm not an English speaker (that said, also translations are not the speciality here). – c.p. Jun 10 at 8:21
  • @martinafs You could phrase it as "He has a few doubts that the project may lead to a bad outcome afterall". But as c. p. said, simple translation requests are off-topic here. – Henning Kockerbeck Jun 10 at 8:25

The other answers seem to work so I'm not sure what's with the downvotes. I think the main point is that ob nicht doch is not an idiom and can be translated word for word. ob = "whether", referring to Zweifel, "doubts" in the previous clause. Remove that bit and switch to indicative to get Das Projekt werde nicht doch zu einem schlechten Ausgang führen. doch here is flavor particle/modal adverb/whatever meaning something like "contrary to expectation", "anyway", or, since we're in future tense here, "after all". It can be dropped without breaking the grammar to get Das Projekt werde nicht zu einem schlechten Ausgang führen. This is pretty straightforward.

I think the real difficulty here is that there are quite a few words with negative meaning (leichte, Zweifel, doch, nicht, schlecht) and this makes the sentence awkward and the meaning hard to grasp on the first hearing.

  • This is an idiomatic expression in German to express doubts over changing circumstances or new insight. In this case with a double negation ".. Zweifel ob es nicht doch schief geht." You can search the phrase "Zweifel, ob nicht doch" to get a feeling where it fits. – a_donda Jun 10 at 12:22
  • @a_donda: Yes, I did find more examples with DWDS. But their meaning still seems to work when you analyze the phrase word for word. In English I could say "I have doubts whether my answer isn't correct after all," to the same effect as Ich habe Zweifel, ob nicht doch meine Antwort richtig ist. It may be a more common turn of phrase in German than in English, but I still don't see how the phrase isn't "the sum of its parts". – RDBury Jun 10 at 15:05
  • Sure, it is the sum of its parts, like any sentence is. But saying it is not an idiom goes too far, it is very idiomatic, frequently used in speech and writing, informal and formal language. let me put it that way and to stay on topic: "Es sollten wegen seines regelmäßigen Gebrauchs Zweifel aufkommen, ob der Ausdruck nicht doch ein Idiom ist." – a_donda Jun 10 at 15:53
  • @a_donda: Okay, the confusion is because we're using the word "idiom" in different ways. To me, an idiom will always have a meaning different from the meaning of the individual words put together. For example Es ist ein dickes Brett, das wir da bohren müssen. does not mean we have to literally drill through thick boards, so it's not the sum of its parts and I would call it an idiom. I would call what you're talking about a "turn of phrase" or a "fixed expression". Both "idiom" and "idiomatic" have several inconsistent meanings and I wish there was more precise terminology. – RDBury Jun 10 at 17:23

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