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Reflexive Verben
Diagnostic Exercises You will be asked 20 questions. IF YOU GET A QUESTION WRONG, KEEP TRYING UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT. THE PROGRAM WILL ONLY CALCULATE YOUR SCORE IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED ALL THE QUESTIONS. Incorrect guesses will reduce your score. When you are finished, click "Submit" if you are satisfied with your score. Remember you need a score of at least 80% in order to get a "check" for this assignment. Practice Exercises
Definition Table of Reflexive Pronouns
Obligatory and Optional Reflexives Accusative vs Dative Reflexive Pronouns
Important Details A List of Common Reflexive Verbs

Zusammenfassung

  • A reflexive verb is a verb that has an object which is the same as the subject of the verb ==> the action of the reflexive verb is something one is doing to or for oneself.  Some verbs are always reflexive, others are not.  This is discussed in more detail below.  Click here for some examples.
  • The reflexive pronouns are similar to the regular accusative and dative pronouns, but in the 3rd person singular and plural, there is only one form of the reflexive pronoun for all genders and both accusative and dative: sich.  Click here to see the table of reflexive pronouns, and compare it to the table of regular accusative and dative pronouns.
  • Languages differ in what actions they consider to be reflexive.  Some verbs will always be accompanied by a reflexive pronoun, e.g. Germans always think of sich kämmen, sich waschen, sich beeilen [=to hurry up] and even sich erkälten [=to catch a cold] as something one is doing to oneself.  In general, the reflexive is obligatory for many more verbs in German than in English; a representative list of such reflexive verbs is provided in the last section.  Any other transitive verb [i.e. verb that can take an object] will be reflexive when its subject and object are the same.  Thus, if Larry hits Moe and Curly over the head, the verb schlagen will not be reflexive, but if Larry hits himself on the head, you need to use a reflexive pronoun with schlagen.  Finally, there are some cases where it is up to you to decide whether you want to emphasize that one is performing the action for oneself: in German as in English, I can say "Ich kaufe einen Opel" [=I buy an Opel] or "Ich kaufe mir einen Opel" [=I buy myself an Opel].  Click here for some examples.
  • Normally the reflexive pronoun will be accusative.  If the verb already has an accusative object, however, then the reflexive pronoun will be dative.  Note that you will only notice this difference in the ich- and du-forms, since for all the other persons, the accusative and dative reflexive pronouns are identical.  Click here for some examples.
  • Note that the plural reflexive pronouns can sometimes be used to express that two people are doing something to each other, and are thus sometimes interchangeable with the adverb "einander."  Reflexive constructions are also sometimes used as substitutes for the passive.  Click here for more details and examples.
  • Click here for a list of common reflexive verbs.
  • Finally, a warning: after reading about reflexive verbs, it is natural to overuse reflexive pronouns for a while.  Please remember that you should only use reflexive pronouns in the situations described here!
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Practice Exercises

Try these to see if you understand reflexive pronouns!

Reflexive or not?  This exercise asks you to decide whether you need the reflexive pronoun sich or a regular third person singular or plural pronoun.  The third person is used since for the first and second person singular and plural, the reflexive pronouns are the same as the regular pronouns anyway.  Click here and here if this exercise gives you trouble.

Pick the correct reflexive pronoun to fill in the blank  This exercise allows you to practice using a variety of reflexive pronouns with a variety of reflexive verbs. Click here and here if this exercise gives you trouble.

Ein wunderbarer Urlaub Decide if you need an accusative or a dative reflexive pronoun to fill in the blank.  This exercise focuses primarily on mich and mir since the accusative and dative reflexive pronouns are the same for most of the other persons.  Click here if this exercise gives you trouble.

Exzentriker Practice using a variety of reflexive pronouns in this exercise about the habits of various eccentric people.

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Definition

A reflexive verb is a verb that has an object which is the same as the subject of the verb ==> the action of the reflexive verb is something one is doing to or for oneself.  Some verbs are reflexive all or most of the time, others are only reflexive when used in certain ways.  Here are some examples to illustrate what is meant by this definition.  Where the infinitive is listed with a reflexive pronoun in the table below, the verb is reflexive all or most of the time; in many cases, the corresponding English verb is not reflexive.  This is discussed in more detail below.
 
sich erkälten Er erkältet sich.

He catches a cold. [literally: he "colds" himself ==> he is the subject, and he is also the object]

sich anziehen Sie zieht sich an.

She gets dressed. [literally: she dresses herself ==> she is the subject, and she is also the object]

The only way for this verb not to be reflexive is if someone dresses someone else.

sich amüsieren Ich habe mich auf dem Nagelbett amüsiert.

I enjoyed myself on the bed of nails. [==> I am the subject, and I am also the object]

The only way for this verb not to be reflexive is if someone amuses someone else.

machen Er macht sich einen Teller Käsespätzle. He makes himself a plate of cheese Spätzle. [==> He is the subject, and he is doing this for himself, so he is also the (indirect) object (the Spätzle being the direct object in this case)]
lieben Erst muss man sich selbst lieben.  Dann kann man Deutsch lieben. First one must love oneself.  Then one can love German. [In the first sentence one is loving oneself, i.e. one is the subject and the object, and the sentence is reflexive.  In the second sentence, one is the subject and German is the object; these are different, so the second sentence is not reflexive.]
weh tun Er hat sich auf dem Nagelbett weh getan.  Ich habe ihm nicht weh getan. He hurt himself on the bed of nails. I did not hurt him.  [In the first sentence he is the subject, and he is also the object and the sentence is reflexive.  In the second sentence, I am and he is the object; these are different, so the second sentence is not reflexive.]

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Table of Reflexive Pronouns

The reflexive pronouns are similar to the regular accusative and dative pronouns, but in the 3rd person singular and plural, there is only one form of the reflexive pronoun for all genders and both accusative and dative: sich:
 
Person Accusative Reflexive Pronoun Dative Reflexive Pronoun
ich mich mir
du dich dir
er/sie/es sich sich
wir uns uns
ihr euch euch
sie/Sie sich sich

Compare this to the table of regular accusative and dative pronouns:
 

Person Accusative  Pronoun Dative  Pronoun
ich mich mir
du dich dir
er/sie/es ihn/sie/es ihm/ihr/ihm
wir uns uns
ihr euch euch
sie/Sie sie/Sie ihnen/Ihnen

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Obligatory and Optional Reflexives

Obligatory Reflexives

Languages differ in what actions they consider to be reflexive.  Some verbs will always be accompanied by a reflexive pronoun, e.g. Germans always think of sich kämmen, sich waschen, sich beeilen [=to hurry up] and even sich erkälten [=to catch a cold] as something one is doing to oneself.  In general, the reflexive is obligatory for many more verbs in German than in English; a representative list of such reflexive verbs is provided in the last section; here is an exceprt from that list related to grooming and one's daily routine:
 
Deutsch Englisch Beispiel
sich (+Akk) baden to take a bath Ich bade mich gern jeden Sonntag.
sich (+Akk) duschen to shower Es ist gesund, sich manchmal kalt zu duschen.
sich (+Akk/+Dat) waschen, du wäschst, wusch, hat gewaschen to wash (oneself) Niemand liebt mich.  Ich muss mir den Rücken alleine waschen.
sich (+Akk/+Dat) kämmen to comb oneself Ihr seid cool, weil ihr euch nie die Haare kämmt.
sich (+Akk/+Dat) rasieren to shave Niemand rasiert sich gern den Rücken.
sich (+Akk/+Dat) an•ziehen, zog an, hat angezogen to get dressed Zieh dir die Lederhosen an!
sich (+Akk) beeilen to hurry Wir müssen uns beeilen!
sich (+Akk) verfahren, verfuhr, hat verfahren to lose one's way (by car) Habt ihr euch wieder verfahren?
sich (+Akk) verlaufen, verlief, hat verlaufen to lose one's way (on foot) Nein, wir haben uns verlaufen.
sich (+Akk) verspäten to be late Deshalb haben wir uns verspätet.
sich (+Akk) aus•ruhen to rest Es ist OK.  Ruht euch jetzt aus.
sich (+Akk) setzen to sit down Darf ich mich auf dein antikes Sofa setzen?
sich (+Akk) hin•legen to lie down  Leg dich lieber hin. 

Reflexives with other Transitive Verbs when Subject and Object are the same

Any other transitive verb [i.e. verb that can take an object] will be reflexive when its subject and object are the same.  Thus, if Larry hits Moe and Curly over the head, the verb schlagen will not be reflexive, but if Larry hits himself on the head, you need to use a reflexive pronoun with schlagen.
 
verletzen Jake Barnes hat sich verletzt. Jake Barnes hurt himself. [Jake is the subject and the object ==> reflexive]
verletzen Eine Kugel hat Jake Barnes verletzt. A bullet injured Jake Barnes. [The bullet is the subject, Jake is the object ==> not reflexive]
schreiben Hemingway hat viele Romane geschrieben. Hemingway wrote many novels.  [Hemingway is the subject, the novels are the object ==> not reflexive]
schreiben Hat Hemingway in seinen Büchern über sich selber geschrieben? Did Hemingway write about himself in his books? [Hemingway is the subject and the object ==> reflexive]
hassen Hemingway hat den Film A Farewell to Arms (1932) gehasst.  [Er dachte der Film war zu romantisch.] Hemingway hated the movie A Farewell to Arms (1932).  [Hemingway is the subject and the movie is the object ==> not reflexive]
hassen Hat Hemingways sich selbst gehasst? Did Hemingway hate himself?  [Hemingway is the subject and the object ==> reflexive]

Notice the adverbs "selbst" and "selber" in two of the above examples.  This is sometimes used to give added emphasis to the reflexive character of the action.  Don't confuse this with the other meaning of "selbst" and "selber,"  namely, "by oneself," as in: "Ich muss immer alles selber machen" or "Ich kann mir meine Schuhe selbst anziehen."

Optional Reflexives

Finally, there are some cases where it is up to you to decide whether you want to emphasize that one is performing the action for oneself: in German as in English, I can say "Ich kaufe einen Opel" [=I buy an Opel] or "Ich kaufe mir einen Opel" [=I buy myself an Opel].  More examples of this:
 
kaufen Ich kaufe die deutsche Ausgabe von Harry Potter.
Ich kaufe mir die deutsche Ausgabe von Harry Potter.
I buy the German edition of Harry Potter.
I buy myself the German edition of Harry Potter.
machen Wir machen einen SPAM Reuben.
Wir machen uns einen SPAM Reuben.
We make a SPAM Reuben.

We make ourselves a SPAM Reuben.

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Accusative vs Dative Reflexive Pronouns

Normally the reflexive pronoun will be accusative.  If the verb already has an accusative object, however, then the reflexive pronoun will be dative.  Note that you will only notice this difference in the ich- and du-forms, since for all the other persons, the accusative and dative reflexive pronouns are identical.
 
Ich wasche mich. [no object other than the reflexive object] I'm washing myself.
Ich wasche mir das Gesicht. 
[here, the verb already has an accusative object: "das Gesicht," the specific part of my body that needs washing because it's covered in disgusting filth and I have a big date tonight, though no amount of washing is going to remove the huge, throbbing, excruciatingly painful, greenish zit [der Pickel] on the tip of my nose.  Consequently, my face, which is being washed, is accusative, and I'm the beneficiary/recipient of this action ==> dative]
I'm washing my face.
Ich habe mir beim Skifahren auf dem Großglockner den Arm gebrochen. 
[here, the arm is the specific part of my body that I broke, so again it's accusative and I'm the "beneficiary"/recipient of this action ==> dative]
I broke my arm while skiiing on the Großglockner.
Kauf dir ein Bonbon! 
[Here, the accusative object is "das Bonbon"; you're the beneficiary/recipient when you buy it ==> dative]
Buy yourself some candy!

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Important Details

  • The plural reflexive pronouns can sometimes be used to express that two people are doing something to each other, and are thus sometimes interchangeable with the adverb "einander."  In some cases, it is preferable to use "einander" in order to avoid ambiguity: see the third example below:
Wir haben uns in der Stadt getroffen.
Wir haben einander in der Stadt getroffen.
We met (each other) in town.
Sie hatten sich jahrelang nicht mehr gesehen. 
Sie hatten einander jahrelang nicht mehr gesehen.
They hadn't seen each other for years.
Die Affen entfernen sich die Läuse. 
Die Affen entfernen einander die Läuse.
With "sich" this can mean the monkeys are each removing their own lice on their own bodies, or that they are doing this for each other. 
With "einander," it has to mean that they are doing it for each other.
  • Reflexive constructions are sometimes used as substitutes for the passive.  Particularly common in this context is the expression "sich lassen" ["(it) lets itself be done," i.e. "(it) can be done"]:
Das lässt sich (nicht) machen. That can (can't) be done.
Die Dose SPAM lässt sich leicht öffnen. The can of SPAM can be opened easily.
"Scheiße" schreibt sich mit "ß". "Scheiße" is spelled with an "ß".
  • Another use of "sich lassen" is to express that one is having something done for oneself:
Ich lasse mir die Haare schneiden. I'm having my hair cut.
Wir lassen uns ein Haus bauen. We're having a house built for ourselves.

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A List of Common Reflexive Verbs

Deutsch Englisch Significantly different meanings of the verb when not used reflexively
sich (+Akk) baden to take a bath  
sich (+Akk) duschen to shower  
sich (+Akk/+Dat) waschen, du wäschst, wusch, hat gewaschen to wash (oneself)  
sich (+Akk/+Dat) kämmen to comb oneself  
sich (+Akk/+Dat) rasieren to shave  
sich (+Akk/+Dat) an•ziehen, zog an, hat angezogen to get dressed  
sich (+Akk) beeilen to hurry  
sich (+Akk) verfahren, verfuhr, hat verfahren to lose one's way (by car)  
sich (+Akk) verlaufen, verlief, hat verlaufen to lose one's way (on foot)  
sich (+Akk) verspäten to be late  
sich (+Akk) aus•ruhen to rest  
sich (+Akk) setzen to sit down  
sich (+Akk) hin•legen to lie down  to put something down
     
sich (+Dat) etwas merken to commit something to memory  
sich (+Dat) etwas überlegen to think something over  
sich (+Akk) (gut/schlecht) fühlen to feel well/ill etc.  to sense (physically or mentally)
sich (+Akk) erkälten to catch a cold  
sich (+Dat) etwas brechen to break something (arm, leg)  to break (something); to vomit
sich (+Akk) erholen to recover  
     
sich (+Akk) amüsieren to have a good time, enjoy oneself to amuse someone
sich (+Akk) langweilen to be bored  
sich (+Dat) etwas an•sehen, du siehst an, sah an, hat angesehen to take a look at something  
sich (+Dat) etwas ein•bilden to (falsely) imagine/think something   
sich (+Dat) etwas vor•stellen to imagine something (in the sense of picturing it)  
     
sich (+Akk) benehmen, benahm, hat benommen to behave (well, badly, oddly)  
sich (+Akk) entschuldigen to apologize to excuse (someone/something)
sich (+Akk) vor•stellen to introduce oneself  
     
sich (+Akk) erinnern an (acc.) to remember  to remind
sich (+Akk) freuen auf (acc.) to look forward to  
sich (+Akk) freuen über (acc.) to be glad about  
sich (+Akk) gewöhnen an (acc.) to get used to  
sich (+Akk) interessieren für to be interested in  
sich (+Akk) kümmern um to look after, to bother about  
sich (+Akk) sehnen nach to long for  
sich (+Akk) Sorgen machen um to be worried about  
sich (+Akk) verlieben in (acc.) to fall in love with  

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