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Reflexive Pronouns In German: How And When To Use Them?

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Reflexive pronouns are used in conjunction with reflexive verbs in German and indicate that the action or feeling that is expressed by the verb refers back to the subject of the sentence. In this post, I explain the declension of reflexive pronouns and give examples for how we use them.




Let's start with the declension of the reflexive pronouns. It is the same as the declesion of personal pronouns in German and involves the accusative and the dative case since there are reflexive verbs that go with the accusative or- far fewer, though- with the dative case. This combination of verb and case doesn't always translate into other languages and therefore needs to be memorised. The same goes for the question if there is a strict logic of which verbs are reflexive in German- there isn't.


PERSONAL PRONOUN (NOMINATIVE)

ACCUSATIVE

ACCUSATIVE+ DATIVE

DATIVE

ich

mich


mir

du

dich


dir

er, sie, es


sich


wir


uns


ihr


euch


sie, Sie


sich


As the table shows, most reflexive pronouns are the same for both cases. Only the personal pronouns "ich" and "du" have different reflexive pronouns in different cases. Let's look at some examples.


Ich dusche mich jeden Tag.

(I shower- literally myself- every day)


Du meldest dich zum Deutschkurs an.

(You register yourself for the German course)


Sie sieht sich im Spiegel an.

(She is looking at herself in the mirror)


Er erkältet sich oft im Winter

(He often gets a cold in the winter)


Wir möchten uns über die Universität erkundigen.

(We would like to enquire about the university)


Sie wundern sich über die deutsche Grammatik.

(They sometimes wonder about German grammar)


While the first three examples make some sense in English as the subject performs the action to him or herself rather than anyone else, the last three do not and hence need to be learned as such. The same goes for two of the most commonly used reflexive verbs in German.


Ich treffe mich gern mit meinen Freunden

(I like to meet my friends)


Sie fühlt sich heute nicht gut

(She isn't feeling well today)


Let's consider some examples of reflexive verbs with the dative case.


Siehst du dir heute Abend einen Film an?

(Are you watching a movie tonight)


Wir stellen uns vor, dass wir in 20 Jahren auf dem Land leben werden.

(We imagine we will live in the countryside in twenty years from now)


Again, the use of the reflexive pronoun appears rather arbitrary from an English perspective- and it is. So make sure you commit them to memory.


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