The two pronouns "mir" and "mich" are difficult to understand for many German students, especially at the initial stages of learning the language. In this blog post, I will explain the grammatical difference between the two personal pronouns in German and give examples for the contexts in which they are being used.
To fully understand the difference between "mir" and "mich", you first need to familiarise yourself with the rules for the four German cases and German pronouns. Then you will understand that "mich" is the accusative form of "ich", representing the direct object in a sentence, whereas "mir" is the dative pronoun of "ich", which is the indirect object in a sentence. In a nutshell, the direct object has the action of the verb being done it, while the indirect object is the receiver of the direct object, that is, normally a person or pet for whom the action is being done. Typically, verbs tell you whether
a) only the accusative can be used in a sentence (because the action cannot be done for anyone else)
The majority of verbs fall in this category. Examples would be the most reflexive verbs (sich freuen, sich ärgern, sich konzentrieren), most inseparable verbs (besuchen, bekommen, erhalten), and other verbs such as kennen, fragen.
Ich freue mich (I'm happy/pleased)
Ich ärgere mich (I'm angry/annoyed)
Ich konzentriere mich (I concentrate)
Typical accusative verbs
Ich rufe dich heute an (I call you today)
Besuchst du mich morgen? (Are you visiting me tomorrow?)
Holst du mich vom Bahnhof ab? (Are you picking me up from the station?)
b) only the dative case can be used (because it is a verb that only goes with the dative case)
A limited number of verbs belong to this category. They need to be memorised. Examples would be some reflexive verbs (sich vorstellen, sich ansehen, sich merken), and dative verbs like antworten, gefallen, schmecken.
Ich stelle mir vor, dass ich im Lotto gewinne (I imagine that I win the lottery)
Hast du dir den Film angesehen? (Did you watch the movie?)
Ich habe mir seine Telefonnummer gemerkt (I remembered his telephone number)
Typical dative verbs
Ich antworte dir gleich (I'll answer you in a bit)
Mir gefällt das Kleid (I like the dress)
Das Essen schmeckt mir (I find the food tasty)
c) or both cases can be used (because the action can be done for someone else)
Examples would be geben, kaufen, zeigen as they imply that something (accusative) is given to/done for someone (dative). Learn more about the difference between the dative and the accusative case in German.
Ich kaufe mir ein Auto (I buy a car for myself)
Meine Schwester schenkt mir ein Buch (My sister gives me a book)
Ich zeige dir meinen neuen Computer (I show you my new computer)
Are you feeling more confident about "mir" and "mich" now?
On our German language blog "Auf Deutsch, bitte!", you will also find a post on the confusion pronouns "sein" and "ihr", and find many other posts on topics like the difference between man and Mann in German, and am Morgen vs. morgens, a comparison between the online dictionaries Linguee, dict.leo, dict.cc and Collins, and an article on how to use im, am, and um in German. If you find other topics in German grammar very difficult, check out our summary of the most common German grammar rules.