denn, doch, arg – Particles in Rosenkavalier, Part 2

Körnerpark, Berlin-Neukölln

We continue with act 2 and act 3 of the Rosenkavalier, shining light on words that emphasize the attitude or feeling of the speaker or singer. These words are called particles or die Partikeln. When the word denn is not busy as a conjunction (denn = because), it works as an intensifier, especially when sparks of love fly between Octavian and Sophie.


Ich war ein Bub’, da hab’ ich die noch nicht gekannt. Wer bin denn ich? Wie komm’ denn ich zu ihr? Wie kommt denn sie zu mir?

It hits him three times. And three times the particle denn stands for amazement, surprise and a little bit confusion. Here, denn is nothing but dizziness.

Moments later denn takes a slightly different role. Together with doch it tells the singer that Octavian scolds Sophie benevolently. Both, denn and doch say, “Don’t be silly”. Sophie has been telling him that she would put up with insult and contempt (die Ungebühr) if another woman who thinks that she is better than her (die sich besser dünkt) tries to take him away.


Wie kann Sie denn nur denken, dass man Ihr mit Ungebühr begegnen wird, da Sie doch immer die Schönste, die Allerschönste sein wird.

The rest is history. We know how it will go. At the end, Sophie gets Octavian, and the Marschallin lets him go – with gar. This particle intensifies as well. It is a close relative of sehr (very) and from the southern regions of the German-speaking world. We find gar usually in connection with nicht forming the aquivalent of “not at all”.

Das habe ich gar nicht gesagt = I didn’t say that at all.

It functions as an intensifier with the negative article kein.

Wir haben gar kein Klavier im Proberaum = I am surprised that we don’t have a piano in the rehearsal room.

The Marschallin approaches Sophie ignoring Octavian.


So schnell hat Sie ihn gar so lieb?

(You fell in love with him so quickly and so, so much?)


Ich weiss nicht, was Euer Gnaden meinen mit der Frag’.


Ihr blass Gesicht gibt schon die rechte Antwort drauf.


Wär’ gar kein Wunder, wenn ich blass bin, Euer Gnaden. (This is really, really no wonder that I am pale.) Hab’ einen grossen Schreck erlebt mit dem Herrn Vater…

Next update: Sunday, August 26th .

Published by


Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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