Learning German? You should be proud of yourself for getting so far with the German language! Next, let's prepare ourselves for a post on reflexive verbs in German.
The bold words above are examples of reflexive pronouns in English. You need these pronouns whenever you run into reflexive verbs like “proud” and “prepare.”
German also uses reflexive pronouns and verbs. But there are a lot more of them than in the English language. Also, the German language uses these verbs in a way that may take some getting used to.
I'm going to give you a straightforward explanation of how to use German reflexive verbs. By the end, I hope to convince you that reflexive verbs are easier to learn than you think. And that they also play a significant role in boosting your fluency.
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What Are German Reflexive Verbs?
In English, verbs are reflexive when the direct object of your sentence is the same as your subject.
You recognize reflexive verbs by reflexive pronouns, which include myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, themselves, and ourselves.
- Allow me to introduce myself.
- She's preparing herself.
- We fixed it ourselves.
German has more reflexive verbs than English, but their use is identical. Also, the use of reflexive pronouns can be optional in English. However, in German, some verbs always require reflexive pronouns.
Another difference is that German distinguishes between the accusative and dative case. Don't worry about the cases for now. I'll explain these later, and I promise that it's not that bad.
Why Learn German Reflexive Verbs
There are two primary reasons why you should learn the reflexive verbs in German.
#1 German verbs can take on a completely different meaning when you use them with reflexive pronouns.
- Example: Ich habe versprochen. (I promised.)
- Example: Ich habe mich versprochen. (I misspoke.)
Making such a mistake could easily confuse whoever you're talking to in German. Luckily, there are a limited number of verbs that change meaning.
#2 Many expressions in German require the use of reflexive pronouns, even if you wouldn't use them in English.
- Example: Ich verliebe mich. (I'm falling in love.)
I recommend noting which verbs are reflexive from the very beginning when you're learning vocabulary.
Frequent exposure to and practice with these words will help commit them to your memory over time.
The Reflexive Pronouns In German
If you already know the pronouns in German, then you'll already recognize most of the reflexive pronouns. Only the third-person singular and plural are different. In these cases, you should use sich.
Notice how only the 1st and 2nd person singular differ in the accusative and dative. All other reflexive pronouns are the same in both cases.
German Reflexive Verbs And Cases
When you use the singular 1st and 2nd person, you'll need to determine if you need the accusative or dative form of the reflexive pronoun.
If your reflexive German sentence has a direct object in addition to your pronoun, your reflexive pronoun will be in the dative case.
However, if the reflexive pronoun is the only object in your sentence, it will take the accusative case.
- Example: Ich wasche mich. (I'm washing myself.)
- Example: Ich wasche mir die Hände. (I'm washing my hands.)
In the first example, the reflexive pronoun is the direct object, so it takes the accusative case. The second sentence contains the direct object “hands,” so it takes the accusative and our reflexive pronoun is now the dative, indirect object.
Accusative Reflexive Verbs
Pronouns following some reflexive verbs will always take the accusative case when accusative prepositions are present. In other cases, you'll have to learn the accusative verbs by heart.
Dative Reflexive Verbs
Similarly, pronouns following reflexive verbs with dative prepositions will take the dative case. You'll find that there are fewer dative verbs than accusative ones.
How To Use Reflexive Verbs In German
Next, I want to guide you through some examples that will clear up any misunderstandings.
- Example: Ich interessiere mich für die deutsche Sprache. (I'm interested in the German language.)
In this example, sich interessieren für, is an accusative reflexive verb, so I'm using the 1st person singular accusative pronoun mich.
- Example: Wir konzentrieren uns auf die Arbeit. (We are concentrating on the work.)
Here, I don't need to know that the phrase requires an accusative reflexive verb. The reflexive 1st person plural pronoun uns is the same in both cases.
- Example: Du wünschst dir ein neues Auto. (You're wishing for a new car.)
I'm dealing with the singular 2nd person here and a dative reflexive verb, so I need the dative reflexive pronoun dir.
- Example: Er trennt sich von seiner Frau. (He's separating from his wife.)
Because I'm using the singular 3rd person, I don't need to know that sich trennen von requires a dative reflexive pronoun.
In both cases, I need sich.
Word Order And Reflexive Verbs
Now that you've seen some simple examples, let's look at sentences with a few additional elements and how this can affect the word order.
In your main clause, the reflexive pronoun comes directly after the conjugated verb.
- Example: Er kümmert sich um seine Oma. (He's caring for his grandmother.)
- Example: Ich erhole mich nach der Reise. (I'm recuperating after the trip.)
- Example: Wir sehen uns das Objekt an. (We're having a look at the object.)
When the object of your verb is a pronoun, the object must come between the conjugated verb and reflexive pronoun.
- Example: Ich rasiere mir das Gesicht. Ich rasiere es mir. (I'm shaving my face. I'm shaving it.)
Sometimes you'll use reflexive verbs as part of a dependent clause. In this case, the pronoun comes directly after the subject and the conjugated verb comes at the end.
- Example: Ich freue mich auf den Urlaub, weil ich mich erholen kann. (I look forward to the vacation because I can recuperate.)
Reflexive Verbs In Different Tenses
Conjugating reflexive verbs for the past, present, and future is relatively straightforward.
Let's look at an example in each tense.
|Tense||Accusative Pronoun||Dative Pronoun||Meaning|
|Present||Ich wasche mich||Ich wasche mir die Haare||I'm washing (my hair)|
|Perfect||Ich habe mich gewaschen||Ich habe mir die Haare gewaschen||I have washed (my hair)|
|Simple Past||Ich wusch mich||Ich wusch mir die Haare||I washed (my hair)|
|Past Perfect||Ich hatte mich gewaschen||Ich hatte mir die Haare gewaschen||I had washed (my hair)|
|Future 1||Ich werde mich waschen||Ich werde mir die Haare waschen||I will wash (my hair)|
|Future 2||Ich werde mich gewaschen haben||Ich werde mir die Haare gewaschen haben||I will have washed (my hair)|
Remember, if you want to replace the direct object with a pronoun in your dative sentence, the pronoun must come before the reflexive pronoun.
- Example: Ich wasche sie mir.
Reflexive vs. Nonreflexive Verbs
In some cases, adding a reflexive pronoun to a verb can change the meaning of your sentence entirely. Take a look at some of the most common examples below.
|aufhalten||to stay (reflexive)|
to delay (non-reflexive)
|Ich halte mich im Hotel auf (I'm staying at the hotel)|
Wir wollen dich nicht aufhalten (We don't want to delay you)
|ausziehen||to get undressed (reflexive)|
to move out (non-reflexive)
|Sie zieht sich aus (She's getting undressed)|
Sie zieht aus (She's moving out)
|verlaufen||to lose the way (reflexive)|
to proceed (non-reflexive)
|Er hat sich verlaufen (He got lost)|
Wie verlief die Besprechung? (How did the meeting go?)
|verlassen||to rely on (reflexive)|
to separate from/leave (non-reflexive)
|Du kannst dich auf mich verlassen (You can rely on me)|
Wir verlassen die Gruppe (We are leaving the group)
It's normal to face challenges remembering all these variations and differences. When you learn new vocabulary, try to note whether or not the verb is reflexive.
After regular practice hearing these words in context, you'll pick up these rules naturally.
Reflexive Verb Expressions
There are many German phrases and expressions that use reflexive verbs and pronouns.
Let me show you some of the most common examples.
If you want to get more practice with reflexive verb expressions and other colloquial phrases, why not try watching German movies or German TV shows?
You'll get more exposure to the German language, which will help you remember what you've learned during lessons.
Reflexive Pronouns And Verbs For Fluency
Now that you've finished this post, you know what reflexive verbs are, how to use them, and why they're an essential part of learning German.
You also know how to use reflexive pronouns in the accusative and dative cases, as well as the present, past, and future tenses.
Finally, you learned that some words can change their meanings in the presence or absense of a reflexive pronoun. I also showed you some frequently-used expressions with reflexive verbs.
I hope you had fun learning about reflexive pronouns and verbs in German, or as I would say, Ich hoffe, du hast dich amüsiert!
Now the challenge is to look out for German reflexive verbs as you make daily contact with the language, whether that's through reading stories in German, or watching movies and TV shows in German like I suggested above.
That way, you'll get used to these verb forms and how they're used, which will make it so much easier to use them in time in your own German!