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Reflexive Verbs in German

In German, the infinitive of these reflexive verbs is preceded by the pronoun "sich" (sich streiten, sich freuen, etc.)


Saying:
Wenn zwei sich streiten, freut sich der dritte
When two fight, the third is happy

Reflexive Verbs

In a reflexive clause, the action is done to the person carrying out that same action. Reflexive clauses only can be formed by certain verbs. These verbs are called reflexive verbs and exist in German as well as English though there are far less of them in English.

In English, these verbs are characterized by using "oneself", "yourself", "ourselves", etc. In German, the infinitive of these verbs is preceded by the pronoun sich (sich streiten, sich freuen, etc.).

Reflexive verbs in German can be reflexive in the accusative or in the dative. This is not intuitive and needs to be memorized for each verb even though most reflexive verbs are accusative.

Reflexive pronouns

Depending on whether the verb is reflexive in the accusative or dative, it will use the corresponding reflexive pronouns:

AccusativeDative
1st Person Sing.michmir
2nd Person Sing.dichdir
3 Persona Sing.sichsich
1st Person Pluralunsuns
2nd Person Pluraleucheuch
2nd Person Pluralsichsich

Ich freue mich auch für dich
I am also happy for you (accusative)

Ich kaufe mir eine Wohnung
I am buying myself an apartment (dative)

Accusative reflexive verbs (Akkusativ)

The most important reflexive verbs in the accusative are:

VerbMeaning
sich abkühlento cool down
sich abhebento stand out
sich amüsierento have fun
sich ärgern to get angry
sich bewegen to move
sich ergeben to give up
sich erholento recover, recuperate
sich freuento be happy
sich setzen to sit down
sich sonnen to sun
sich treffen to meet
sich umwenden to turn
sich verabschiedento say goodbye
sich verfahrento get lost

Reflexive verbs with dative

The most common reflexive verbs in the dative are:

VerbMeaning
sich denken to imagine
sich kaufento buy
sich etwas anziehento put something on

Peculiarities of reflexive verbs

Some reflexive verbs' behavior with parts of the body and items of clothing is interesting:

If a part of the body or item of clothing is named, they are reflexive in the dative:

Ich wasche mir die Haare
I wash my hair (dative)

But if a part of the body or item of clothing is not named, they are reflexive in the accusative:

Ich wasche mich
I wash myself (accusative)

The verb "kämmen" (to comb) is used the same way:

Ich kämme mir die Haare
I comb my hair (dative)

Which in the third person would be:

Er kämmt sie sich
He combs (his hair)

But if we do not say hair:

Ich kämme mich
I comb myself (accusative)

Negation of reflexive verbs

The reflexive pronoun is placed, like all pronouns, before the adverb nicht:

Du musst dich nicht kümmern
You don’t need to worry yourself




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