Reciprocal Verbs in German

Reziproke Verben: Types, use and examples of their use. Particles: "Einander", "selbst" and "gegenseitig".

Reciprocal Verbs

Reciprocal verbs form sentences in which an individual A completes an action on B while B is completing that same action on A. Given that 2 individuals or more are normally involved with reciprocal verbs, they are normally used in the plural.

There are 3 types of reciprocal verbs:

  • Those that can only be used with the pronoun "sich"
  • Those that only can be used with the pronoun "einander"
  • Those that can be used with the pronoun "einander" or "sich" with no distinction in meaning

Reciprocal Verbs used only with "sich"

Verbs can act only as reciprocal verbs due to their meaning (They can't be reflexive. For example, you can't break up with yourself); the sentence is formed with sich.

This is due to the fact that the pronoun "sich" is enough to show that it is reciprocal and there is no possible confusion.

sich anfreunden to make friends
sich einigen to agree
sich überwerfen to break up
sich verbrüdern to fraternize
sich verfeinden to make enemies
sich verkrachen to fight
sich vertragen to get along

Reciprocal verbs used only with "einander"

Verbs that are accompanied by a preposition act as reciprocal verbs and use the pronoun "einnander" when doing so (not sich). When we refer to verbs with prepositions, we refer to verbs like warten auf (wait for) and not separable verbs like ankommen.

The construction is preposition + "einander"

Beide Teams protestieren gegeneinander
Both teams protest against one another

The possible forms of "einander" are:

PrepositionReciprocal form

Reciprocal verbs that can use either einander or sich

Many reciprocal verbs can be constructed with either "einander" or with "sich"

Sie küssen sich
They kiss each other

Sie küssen einander
They kiss one another

Sie hassen sich
They hate each other

Sie hassen einander
They hate each other

The problem with "sich": Reflexive verb or reciprocal verb?

Sich has 2 meanings. It can mark a reflexive or reciprocal verb and when we use it we have to make sure what we want to say is clear.

A typical example:

Gladiatoren töten sich
Gladiators kill each other or
Gladiators kill themselves

It's still not clear what is being said.


To make it clear that we are using the reflexive "sich", we will add "selbst":

Gladiatoren töten sich selbst
The gladiators kill themselves


To emphasize that we are using the reciprocal, we will add "gegenseitig" (literally: mutually):

Gladiatoren töten sich gegenseitig
The gladiators kill one another

Redundancy: "einander" + "gegenseitig"

"Einander" + "gegenseitig" cannot be used together. It is redundant given that both mark reciprocal behavior.


Sie denken aneinander gegenseitig
They think together each other