Reflexive verbs in German- how to use them and where to place sich

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. When the action is done to someone or something else, the verbs are not used reflexively. E.g. Ich wasche mein Auto.

Examples of other common partly reflexive verbs are

Anmelden (to register)

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

Erinnern (NB. Sich erinnern translates as to remember, without sich it means to remind. E.g. ich erinnere mich an meinen Unterricht. Ich erinnere meine Student:innen an die Regeln)

Föhnen

Kämmen

Rasieren

Schminken

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

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

Verabreden (to arrange without a form a 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 with a reflexive pronoun into other languages like English. Common examples are:

sich ausruhen (to rest)

sich bedanken

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

sich erkälten

sich interessieren

sich streiten mit+ DAT (to argue)

sich treffen mit+DAT (to meet)

sich verlieben

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:


ich-mich

du-dich

er/sie/es-sich

wir-uns

ihr-euch

sie/Sie-sich


E.g. ich habe mich letzte Woche erkältet

Wir streiten uns über unwichtige Dinge.

Er interessiert sich für Philosophie.


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


E.g. sich unterhalten= to have a conversation, Unterhalten= to entertain

Sich verstehen= to get on with someone, verstehen= to understand

Sich beschäftigen= to occupy oneself with something, beschäftigen= to employ


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


sich etwas ansehen

sich etwas merken

sich vorstellen (+Dative= to imagine)


E.g. ich sehe mir eine Dokumentation an

ich muss mir merken, wann der Termin ist.

Ihr stellt euch einen Urlaub in der Karibik vor

Learn about German pronouns, the four cases in German, German adjective endings, the conjunctive in German, and many other topics on our blog.

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