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Reflexive Verbs In German- How To Use Them And Where To Place The Pronoun

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Reflexive verbs are difficult to understand for German students as they don't usually have a reflexive counterpart in their mother tongues. In this post, I explain reflexive verbs and how to use them.

When it comes to reflexive verbs in German, we first have to distinguish between verbs that are partly and those that are always reflexive. Partly reflexive verbs are used with a reflexive pronoun when the subject refers to him or herself, that is, does the action of the verb to him or herself, e.g.

Ich wasche mich.

(I wash myself)

When the action is done to someone or something else, the verbs are not used reflexively, e.g.

Ich wasche mein Auto.

(I wash my car)

Examples of other common partly reflexive verbs are

Anmelden (to register, to sign up)

Anziehen (sich anziehen- to get dressed, but careful anziehen on its own is to attract)

Ärgern (sich ärgern- to get annoy, without “sich” to annoy someone else)

Duschen (to shower)

Erinnern (sich erinnern translates as to remember, yet without "sich" it means to remind)

Föhnen (to blow dry)

Kämmen (to comb)

Rasieren (to shave)

Schminken (to put on make up)

Treffen (on its own goes with the accusative case, but sich treffen mit goes with the dative because of mit)

Umziehen (sich umziehen means to get changed, but umziehen alone is to relocate)

Verabreden (to arrange without a form of "sich", to arrange to meet more specifically as reflexive verb)

Verbs that are always reflexive need to be learnt as such and don‘t always translate into other languages like English. Common examples are:

sich ausruhen (to rest)

sich bedanken (to thank, be grateful)

sich beeilen (to hurry up)

sich befinden (to be located)

sich beschweren (to complain)

sich freuen auf (to look forward to)/über (to be happy about)

sich entspannen (to relax)

sich erkälten (to get a cold)

sich interessieren (to be interested)

sich streiten (to argue)

sich treffen (to meet)

sich verlieben (to fall in love)

sich vorstellen (+accusative case= to introduce oneself)

All of the above take the accusative case, which means that their reflexive pronoun, which is usually positioned after the conjugated verb, declines as follows:







Let's consider some examoles.

Ich habe mich letzte Woche erkältet).

(I got a cold last week)

Wir streiten uns über unwichtige Dinge.

(We argue over unimportant things)

Er interessiert sich für Philosophie.

(He is interested in philosophy)

Confusingly, some verbs have a different meaning when they’re used reflexively and when they’re not.

Sich unterhalten= to have a conversation vs. unterhalten= to entertain

Sich verstehen= to get on with someone vs. verstehen= to understand

Sich beschäftigen= to occupy oneself with something vs. beschäftigen= to employ

Finally, some reflexive verbs do not go with the accusative but with the aative case. The most common ones are:

sich etwas ansehen (to take a look at something, to watch someting)

sich etwas merken (to bear something in mind)

sich vorstellen (+dative= to imagine)

Ich sehe mir eine Dokumentation an.

(I watch a documentary)

Ich muss mir merken, wann der Termin ist.

(I have to bear in mind when the appointment is)

Ihr stellt euch einen Urlaub in der Karibik vor.

(You imagine a holiday in the Carribbean)

So for any reflexive verb you also need to learn how to decline the reflexive pronouns in German.



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