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The following sentence:

  • Bitte einmal volltanken!

appears in the Goethe Institut B1 vocabulary list.

I found a very informative post on the use of »einmal« as an adverb but I'm still a little confused about the likely meaning of this particular sentence. Unfortunately, the two possibilities that occurred to me after reading the post I've mentioned, have exactly the opposite attitude from one another:

  1. (non-sarcastically) When/if you have time, I'd be grateful if you could fill up the tank, or
  2. I've been waiting for ages; could you perhaps eventually do your job and fill up the tank.

Is either of these correct?

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    I'm not convinced that Goethe has provided enough context to determine the exact meaning with any certainty. There are about a dozen meanings for einmal, and all are as an adverb so that doesn't narrow it down any. I think intonation can make a difference here as well.
    – RDBury
    Mar 28, 2022 at 12:19
  • Good to see the Goethe Institut prepares learners for practical situations like traveling back to the 50s and having to refill their DeLorean at a full-service gas station. Mar 29, 2022 at 19:07

3 Answers 3

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The use of 'einmal' when ordering things is very common in German; the idea being that e.g. at a burger place, you're ordering one burger and that's it. The conversational implication is that "you can start processing my order now, because there won't be any more items".

At a gas station it's comparatively unlikely that you'll have a second car waiting around which you'd like filled up as well, so that this implication isn't really needed, but since it's so widespread in ordering situations, people will still say it even though the literal meaning isn't necessary.

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  • In earlier times gas stations offered additional services like cleaning the screen, checking oil level, etc; possibly the phrase dates from that time.
    – guidot
    Mar 28, 2022 at 7:41
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    One can interpret it as a 'degenerate' form of a larger order, such as: Three cheeseburgers, two hamburgers and one Ceasar Salad, please.
    – RHa
    Mar 28, 2022 at 10:48
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    Or as we would say, "Just a burger, please." Meaning you needn't ask if I want fries with that or something to drink. In the OP's example, "Just fill it up, please", meaning don't bother to check the fluids or wash the windshield.
    – MTA
    Mar 28, 2022 at 20:09
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    It might be a regional thing but I wouldn't understand the "einmal" as indicating the end of the order. See the cheeseburger example in this other answer.
    – luator
    Mar 29, 2022 at 7:52
  • While it is true that the modal particle «(ein)mal» is often used when ordering things in German, it is unlikely that «einmal» in this particular sentence is a modal particle because it cannot be shortened to «mal». Grammar.
    – mach
    Apr 1, 2022 at 8:41
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You can simply translate it to "once" / "one time" or similar.

Bitte einmal volltanken!

It means that you want the tank to be completely filled ("volltanken") once ("einmal"). For my understanding, the "einmal" is completely redundant, as it is highly unlikely that you'd e.g. enter into a tanking subscription at a gas station. So, it could as well just be

Bitte volltanken!

Regarding the interpretation of "einmal" as denoting the end of the order: I don't feel that. Something like

Einen Cheeseburger mit Pommes, einmal Mayonnaise und zweimal Ketchup.

is perfectly natural, and shows the "einmal" in the middle of the ordering process.

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Your sentence is:

  1. Bitte einmal volltanken!

Grammatically speaking, the question is whether the word «einmal» is a modal particle or an adverb. If it is an adverb, it means ‘once’. Modal particles, on the other hand, express the speaker’s attitude towards the entire utterance. The modal particle “einmal” expresses that the speaker means the utterance ‘only this one time’. In the case of demands, this makes them more polite by restricting the scope.

We can test whether the word «einmal» is a modal particle with a substitution test. The modal particle «einmal» can be shortened to «mal»:

  1. Bitte mal volltanken!

This is not ungrammatical, but it sounds much less plausible to me than (1). Therefore, it seems more likely that the word is an adverb in this sentence.

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