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neW: List of most common reflexive verbs a1 - c1

reflexive Verbs in German Grammar

How to learn German reflexive verbs

Introduction

Reflexive verbs incorporate a reflexive pronoun and are accompanied by "sich" in the infinitive form, such as "sich ausziehen" meaning "to undress." These verbs are employed in the German language when the subject and object of an action are identical.

Compared to English grammar, reflexive verbs find more frequent application within German grammar.

Acquire a firm grasp of the precise conjugation and application of reflexive verbs in German, along with the utilization of accusative and dative reflexive pronouns. Engaging in exercises will provide you with the opportunity to apply the knowledge you have acquired effectively.

Usage

We use reflexive verbs when the subject and object of the verb are identical. For example, one does an action for oneself and not for someone else.

Example: Ich sehe mich im Spiegel an. 

Reflexive verbs are far more common in German; in English, they are often non-reflexive.

Ich ziehe mich an. I get dressed.
Ich kämme mich. I comb my hair.
Ich putze mir die Zähne. I brush my teeth.
Ich ruhe mich aus. I rest.

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additional key factors to take into account when learning German reflexive verbs:

  • Pronoun Matching: Reflexive pronouns must agree in gender and number with the subject of the sentence. Here's an example of pronoun matching for different subjects:

    • "Ich wasche mich." (I wash myself.)

    • "Du wäschst dich." (You wash yourself.)

    • "Er/sie/es wäscht sich." (He/she/it washes himself/herself/itself.)

    • "Wir waschen uns." (We wash ourselves.)

    • "Ihr wascht euch." (You all wash yourselves.)

    • "Sie waschen sich." (They wash themselves.)
       

  • Verb Placement: In main clauses, the reflexive verb is typically positioned in the second position of the sentence, just like regular verbs. For example:

    • "Ich dusche mich jeden Morgen." (I shower every morning.)

    • "Am Wochenende möchte ich mich ausruhen." (On the weekend, I want to rest.)
       

  • Infinitive Form: When a reflexive verb is used with modal verbs or in an infinitive construction, the reflexive pronoun "sich" remains at the end of the clause:

    • "Ich kann mich nicht erinnern." (I can't remember.)

    • "Wir müssen uns beeilen." (We need to hurry.)
       

  • Reflexive Verbs vs. Non-Reflexive: Some verbs have different meanings when used reflexively or non-reflexively:

    • "waschen" (non-reflexive): to wash something (e.g., clothes)

    • "sich waschen" (reflexive): to wash oneself

  • Idiomatic Expressions: German includes many idiomatic expressions that use reflexive verbs. These expressions might not have a direct equivalent in other languages, so it's essential to learn them individually:

    • "sich Sorgen machen" (to worry)

    • "sich freuen auf" (to look forward to)
       

  • Casual Conversation: In informal settings, reflexive pronouns can sometimes be dropped if the context is clear:

    • "Ich wasche." (I'm washing [myself].)
       

  • Prepositional Verbs: Some reflexive verbs are also prepositional verbs, meaning they're used in conjunction with prepositions:

    • "sich mit etwas abfinden" (to come to terms with something)

    • "sich auf etwas freuen" (to look forward to something)
       

  • Accusative and Dative Pronouns: The choice between accusative and dative reflexive pronouns depends on the action of the verb and the prepositions involved:

    • Accusative: Actions that affect the subject directly (e.g., "Ich wasche mich.")

    • Dative: Actions that affect the subject indirectly (e.g., "Ich helfe mir.")


Remember that practicing with various examples, engaging in conversations, and reading texts in German will help you gain a deeper understanding of how reflexive verbs work in different contexts.

Reflexive verbs and verbs with an object

  • Some verbs are always reflexive, meaning we can' t use them without a reflexive pronoun. These verbs are written with sich in the infinitive form. Some examples are: sich bedanken, sich beeilen, sich befinden, sich benehmen, sich betrinken, sich eignen, sich erholen, sich erkälten, sich schämen, sich verspäten, sich weigern
    Example:

    Jetzt muss ich mich beeilen, damit ich mich nicht verspäte. Now I have to hurry up so I won't be late. 

  • Some other verbs are reflexive only when someone is doing an action for themselves. When the action is performed for another person, that is, the subject and object are not the same, we use an object pronoun rather than a reflexive pronoun. Examples:
    Das Mädchen kämmt sich. The girl is combing her hair. Subject and object are the same → reflexive.
    Die Friseurin kämmt sie/die Kundin. The hairdresser combs her/the customer's hair. The subject and the object are different → non-reflexive.


Important: Some verbs have a very different meaning when used as a reflexive verb. The following table gives an overview of reflexive verbs with a different meaning.

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Quick tip: In English, reflexive verbs often signify self-directed actions, like a young child dressing without parental help.

In German, these phrases use "selbst." "Sie hat sich selbst angezogen." (She dressed herself.)

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Common reflexive verbs
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