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Can you help me with a problem? I don't understand if in the following sentence aber is a conjunction or adverb! Thank you!

Er war groß und bullig und hatte fast keinen Hals, dafür aber einen sehr großen Schnurrbart.

(Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen)

2 Answers 2

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Neither.

In this very specific case, "aber" is in fact a particle. Particles are, in German, somewhat like a sprinkle of salt over a meal - They are not really necessary (try to leave it off, the sentence will still mean the same), but intensify the notion (here, aber intensifies the contrast).

(Note that the definition of a particle in German grammar differs quite a bit from the same (more classically used) term in English)

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  • But "nicht" is considered to be a particle as well, and it definitely can't be left out without a significant change of meaning. So your answer is a bit misleading. Feb 12, 2023 at 22:22
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    "nicht" can act as a special case, the Negationspartikel and you can't leave those out. "Nicht" can also be used as a "Modalpartikel", and can be left off, like in "Möchten sie nicht heute Abend mit mir Essen gehen". That would however, better be an extra question.
    – tofro
    Feb 12, 2023 at 23:01
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    I don't think there's any universal agreement on what a "particle" is across languages; it ends up being a odds and ends category for things that are difficult to classify. One requirement though is that they aren't inflected. A typical example, Japanese adds ka to mark a question instead of changing word order. So what do you call ka? It doesn't seem to fit any traditional category so call it a particle.
    – RDBury
    Feb 13, 2023 at 18:53
  • @RDBury No, there is no such universal agreement. Not between languages, and sometimes not even within a language. In German, the "traditional" approach was to call everything non-flexed a particle - this included (Adverb, Präposition, Konjunktion) - and I think this is still the approach in English grammar, for example. A newer understanding excludes these three from the definition, but it's still something like a "miscellaneous" word classification. The closest definition today I was trying to give above (grain of salt)
    – tofro
    Feb 13, 2023 at 19:03
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    It depends how you define adverbs, both German and English have "sentence adverbs". For example "Eigentlich gibt es gar keinen Weihnachtsmann." (Source, Wiktionary.) To me, "Eigentlich" is an adverb, "gar" is a particle, neither one describes "geben".
    – RDBury
    Feb 13, 2023 at 19:50
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"Er war groß und bullig und hatte fast keinen Hals, dafür aber einen sehr großen Schnurrbart".

Diese Formulierung, die, wie @tofro oben schon beschreibt, relativ gut in der Umgangssprache integriert ist, dürfte in anbetracht der Logik mit englischem even vergleichbar sein: he had barely a neck, but an even bigger mustache; oder anders mit ever, an ever so big mustache.

This can't be argued without dafür. In view of French en lieu, plutôt, obsolete ains "instead of" and conj. ainsi respectively, the etymon *ante ius "before ..." implies that German für (anstelle von, für jemanden einspringen) respectively vor, likewise eher als and English rather, sooner than is _ formally identical_ with this use of aber, inasmuch as either dafür or aber can be removed without change of semantics. Which is to imply that da- is a preglottalized je-, e-, viz. jeh, eh, ever, cp. ius, above. Now that I've taken it appart, I'm afraid I can't piece it back together.

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