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German Reflexive Verbs

Accusative and Dative Reflexive Verbs

With Sample Sentences

 Related Pages
• Reflexive Verbs
• Reflexive Pronouns
• Reflexive Sentences
• Glossary: Reflexive Verbs
• German Lesson 15
 
 Related Resources
• German Verbs
• German for Beginners
• German Grammar
 
One of the first things German-learners need to learn is that German and English often do things a little differently. Although English does have some reflexive verbs forms ("enjoy yourself"), German relies much more on the reflexive than English does. The grammatical term reflexive simply means that a verb's subject (the initiator of an action) is the same person as that verb's object (the person acted upon). The object "reflects" back to, or is a "reflection" of the subject. "We are enjoying ourselves" is a reflexive phrase. "We are enjoying them" is not—because the subject (we) is not the same person as the object (them). The word "reflexive" means the same thing in English and German grammar, but as we said, German uses reflexive verbs much more frequently.

One reason is that German uses reflexive verb phrases and expressions that may not be reflexive in English. Particularly when it comes to showing possession and referring to parts of the body, German prefers the reflexive. To express "he's washing his hands," German usually avoids the possessive sein (his) and uses the reflexive form "er wäscht sich die Hände"—in which the reflexive sich (himself) indicates whose hands are being washed. In English you can say "I'm shaving myself," but you usually just say "I'm shaving." In German "to shave" is a reflexive verb: sich rasieren. "I'm shaving" in German is ich rasiere mich—and such German verbs can't be used without the reflexive pronoun (here, mich/myself).

In English, reflexive pronouns always end with -self or -selves (myself, ourselves, herself). In German, the reflexive pronouns are identical to the regular accusative or dative (objective) pronouns (see Reflexive Chart and Reflexive Verb Glossary), with the important exception of sich, which is the reflexive form for the third person singular (er/sie/es), the plural sie (they) and the formal "you" (Sie). Because sich is used for more than one pronoun, you only need to learn a total of five accusative reflexive pronouns. All the reflexives are the same in the dative, except for ich/mir and du/dir. While selbst or selber (self) is sometimes used along with a reflexive pronoun, neither word can be used alone as a reflexive.

Although some German verbs are exclusively reflexive, most can be either reflexive or not. In some cases, the meaning of the reflexive form is very different from the non-reflexive form. In a German-English dictionary or verb guide, reflexive verbs are indicated by one of the following abbreviations, depending on the publisher: s. - sich - refl. The infinitive of a German reflexive verb is indicated with sich (s.): sich setzen (to sit down), sich interessieren für (to be interested in), sich erkälten (to catch cold). On the next page, you'll find a chart with all of the reflexive pronouns and a German-English list of many reflexive verbs.

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