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I'm trying to understand the different meanings of bitte, mal, einmal and doch when used in requests or commands. My understanding is that both bitte and mal soften a request, with bitte corresponding to the English "please" and mal serving to make the request more casual, something like "if you don't mind". Meanwhile einmal and doch both strengthen a request, with einmal expressing a certain amount of annoyance and doch expressing insistence or urgency. However, DWDS says mal is a synonym of einmal, which seems to contradict the above. For example, some possible, or a least plausible, translations might be:

  • Komm bitte her. -- "Come here, please."
  • Komm mal her. -- "Come here, if you don't mind."
  • Komm einmal her. -- "Come here for once!"
  • Komm doch her. -- "Do come here."

Apparently these words can be used in combination as well, but the meanings in combination are even less clear to me:

  • Komm mal bitte her.
  • Komm doch mal her.
  • Komm doch bitte her.
  • Komm bitte einmal her.
  • Komm doch einmal her.
  • Komm mal einmal her. (This seems to be rare but not impossible.)

Is my understanding of these meanings correct? If so, is DWDS wrong about mal and einmal being synonyms? Are there additional particles or adverbs usable with the imperative that I didn't mention?

This question raises the possibility that there may be regional variations in these meanings, but the answers don't seem to support the idea.

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  • Bitte is not a modal particle. As opposed to true modal particles it's vorfeldfähig: Bitte komm her is correct, but Mal komm her is not.
    – RHa
    Sep 7 at 17:01
  • @RHa: Yes, I was trying to be careful to say "particle/adverb" instead of just "particle" to allow for that. There is a similar difference between nicht and nie, since nie can start a sentence but nicht can't. Note though that there is disagreement on the terminology; DWDS calls both mal and nicht adverbs while Duden calls them particles. Outside German the word "particle" is rather nebulous and its meaning seems to depend on what language you're talking about.
    – RDBury
    Sep 7 at 20:53
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Your examples are mostly correct. The problem is, that some of them depend on pronunciation and can mean different things when pronounced differently.

Lets take the one that will answer another of your questions:

Komm einmal her: If the word "einmal" is stressed then it would really be translated as "come here for once". Then "einmal" stands for "one time" as opposed to "multiple times".

This probably would be accompanied by a further sentence like: "Du musst ja nicht immer kommen, wenn ich Dich rufe, aber komm einmal her." - You don't need to come whenever I call you, just come once (this time).

If there is no stress on "einmal" then the word indeed takes the exakt same meaning as the word "mal" and the sentence would be translated (as you stated in the other example): "come here, if you don't mind".

And this also answers your other question(s): mal and einmal CAN be synonyms in that special case and meaning, but einmal can also have other meanings (counting / number of occurrences) and then it cannot be replaced by mal.

And with THAT second translation in deed your last example might be possible although very rarely used and probably only used in spoken language and not written down:

Komm mal einmal her - Come here for once, if you don't mind

Regarding regional differences: Depending on the region mal and einmal will "merge" even more to the point where they are not distinguable any more.

"Einmal" becomes "a mol" e.g. in swabian / bavarian dialect and lazy people will even omit the "a" here...

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  • Thanks. One of the answers in the question linked above mentioned the saying Der Ton macht die Musik, which seems applicable to what you're talking about with einmal. DWDS was clear that mal are einmal are synonyms for only some meanings. DWDS also gives a number of examples of einmal with the imperative, but it's hard to guess what kind of tone is meant just from from text.
    – RDBury
    Sep 7 at 12:37

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