How to Use the German Adverb 'Auch'

Mother and child play piano
Mein Sohn will jetzt auch Klavier studieren / My son now also wants to study piano.

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Sometimes the littlest words can have a big meaning. Take the German adverb auch. In its simplest form, this word means "also." But it also (get it?) holds greater significance. 

Auch can mean "even." It can also be a modal particle and imply anything from "I hope" to "You're sure." Here's a closer look at the power behind this common, little adverb

When 'Auch' Is Accentuated

This type of auch relates to the subject of the sentence and will usually be in front of a verbal group. Its meaning is "also." For example: 

Mein Sohn will jetzt auch Klavier studieren.
My son now also wants to study piano.

Meine Oma isst gerne Bockwurst und auch Bratwurst.
My grandmother likes to eat Bockwurst and Bratwurst, as well.

When 'Auch' Is Not Accentuated

This type of auch bears directly upon the elements of phrase that follow it. It usually means "even." For example: 

Auch für einen fleißigen Schüler, war dies eine große Hausaufgabe.
Even for a hard working student, this was a lot of homework.

Ihr kann auch kein Arzt helfen.
Not even a doctor can help her.

Take note that in the above sentences, the unaccented auch draws attention toward an accented word: fleißigen or Arzt, respectively.

'Auch' Can Express Mood

An unaccented auch can also be used to indicate the mood of the speaker. In such cases, you will find auch to help underline the speaker’s irritation or reassurance. For example: 

Du kannst auch nie still sein!
You can never be still, can you?

Hast du deine Brieftasche auch nicht vergessen?
I hope you didn’t forget your wallet.

Context Is Everything

Consider the following two dialogues and the meaning implied by the context.

Sprecher 1: Die Freunde deines Sohnes können gut schwimmen. / Your son’s friends can swim really well.

Sprecher 2: Mein Sohn ist auch ein guter Schwimmer. / My son is also a good swimmer.
Sprecher 1: Mein Sohn treibt gerne Basketball und Fußball. Er ist auch ein guter Schwimmer. / My son loves playing basketball and soccer. He is also a good swimmer.

Sprecher 2: Ihr Sohn ist sehr sportlich. / Your son is very athletic.

As you can see, in both dialogues, the phrases with auch are practically the same, yet a different meaning is implied. Tone and context mean everything. In the first case, auch is accented and serves the subject of the sentence: Sohn. In the second case, auch is unaccented and the emphasis is in on guter Schwimmer, implying that the son is, among other things, also good at swimming.