Welcome, German-enthusiasts! It’s time to have a look at the first modal particle:
As you probably know, “vielleicht” is a German adverb and translates to “maybe”.
It’s a whole different story when it’s used as a modal particle though! ?
No worries, it’s not that hard! Here are 3 ways a German might use “vielleicht” as an MP. !
- It serves as an emotional emphasis in an exclamatory sentence and indicates the intensity of the statement (≈ really, indeed, as a matter of fact)
Yesterday was Theresa’s final exam and now she is telling her friend about it:
“Ich war super vorbereitet. 2 Monate hab ich Tag und Nacht gebüffelt. Und trotzdem - Ich war vielleicht aufgeregt als los ging!”
(I was well prepared because I crammed for the exam day and night for 2 months. And yet, I was really nervous when it started!)
- It can be used at the beginning of a (strong) request for emphasis. The undertone can range from reluctant all the way to threatening.
Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. A train just arrived at the platform with a major delay. It’s cold, breezy, and crowded at “Gleis 12”. People waiting anxiously to get inside. When the doors open and passengers get out, a man with a suitcase is blocking their way by trying to push through in order to get a seat. An elderly woman behind him yells:
“He, Sie! Vielleicht lassen Sie die Leute erstmal aussteigen!”
(Hey you! How 'bout you let people get off first!)
- In a yes-no question vielleicht can be used to express, that the Speaker already assumes a negative answer or expects such an answer from the questioned person.
Jürgen moves from Kreuzberg to Neukölln. He has stowed all his furniture in a moving-van and is now driving it to his new apartment. At a construction site, he overlooks a red light and hits the back of another car.
Jürgen apologizes rather poorly: “Ich konnte Sie nicht sehen, die Baustelle ist total unübersichtlich! Und außerdem bin ich sehr spät dran!” (I couldn’t see you, the construction site is totally confusing! And besides, I’m running late!)
The driver responds:
“Na und? Ist das vielleicht meine Schuld?”
(So what? That’s hardly my fault, is it?)
I hope this helps to figure out why we use the word vielleicht in a weird way sometimes!
If you want to learn more about “Modalpartikeln”, then check out this post!
- doch - it’s so weird!
- ruhig - people tell me to do things “ruhig” all the time!
- aber - seriously, what’s up with that “aber” in this sentence?!