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Reflexive Verbs

In case of s reflexive verb the subject of the verb is the same as the object of the verb. To recall the concept, let’s take an example sentence in English:  “I hurt myself”. In this sentence, “I” is the subject of the sentence and “myself” is the object of the sentence. Both of them refer to the same person.

Like English, German has some reflexive verbs as well. On the other hand, in German, they are much more common than in English.

The reflexive verbs function basically the same way in German as in English. However, in German reflexive pronouns are used to indicate that the verb is reflexive. For instance;

  • Ich schminke mich selten (I put on make-up seldomly)

In the sentence above, the verb “schminken” is reflexive. It’s conjugated in the present tense, as shown in the previous lesson. The word “mich” is the reflexive pronouns. In such sentences, you always need to use a reflexive pronoun which corresponds to the object of the sentence, as “myself, yourself” etc. in English. For example; the example sentence above can be expressed for “a she” as the following

  • Sie schminkt sich selten (she puts on make-up seldomly)

There are unfortunately no rules whether a verb must be used reflexive or not. These verbs must be learned together with the reflexive pronouns.  

The following table shows how the reflexive pronouns should be declined in accusative and dative cases.  

Reflexive Pronouns






















Have a look at the above table. Apart from the forms for “Ich” and “du” the other reflexive pronouns are the same for accusative and dative cases.

Note also that the declension of reflexive pronouns is almost the same as the declension of the personal pronouns for the accusative and dative cases except for the pronouns for which “sich” is used.

Recall what we mentioned about the German verbs before. Most of the German verbs take accusative objects. Reflexive verbs are no exception in this sense. But, of course, some reflexive verbs may take dative objects. This is explained in more detail before.

In the context of reflexive verbs, it is important to be aware of the following important points:

·         Most reflexive verbs are used together with an accusative reflexive pronoun as stated above.

·         Some reflexive verbs can only be used as reflexive, there are no non-reflexive versions. For example “sich bedanken” means to thank and it is always used with an accusative reflexive pronoun:

Ich bedankte mich bei meiner Mutter für das Geschenk (I thanked my mother for the present)

·         Some reflexive verbs can be also used non-reflexive. In this case, the meanings can be considerably different in both cases.

For example “beherrschen” and “sich beherrschen”.

Sich beherrschen means “to control oneself” but the non-reflexive version of the verb, “beherrschen” means “to command, to govern, to rule”.

Ich kann mich beherrschen (I can control myself)

Sie beherrscht die englische Sprache (She commands English)

Some other examples of this group are given in the vocabulary section below.

·         If the reflexive verb can take an accusative object as well, the reflexive pronoun must be used in the dative case. This logic should be easy to understand. Because the reflexive pronouns function simply as the accusative objects. Therefore, if the verb takes an additional accusative object, the reflexive pronoun becomes dative.

For example “sich etwas ausdenken” means “to make up something”. In this case “etwas” is an accusative object, therefore the reflexive pronoun must be dative:

Du muss dir eine andere Geschichte ausdenken (You have to make up something else) .

Another example;

Ich wasche mich (I wash myself)


Ich wasche mir die Hände (I wash my hands)



Some reflexive German verbs which can be also used as non-reflexive

sich bewegen: to move ; bewegen: to move oneself

sich verteitigen: to defend; verteitigen: to defend oneself

sich verstehen: to get on well (with), to understand each other ; verstehen: to understand

sich anmelden: to register; anmelden: to sign up, to log in

sich aufregen: to get exited; aufregen: to upset

sich beruhigen: calm down  ; beruhigen; to calm

sich unterhalten: to talk (with); unterhalten: to maintain

sich verletzen: to injure oneself; verletzen: to hurt

sich treffen: to join; treffen: to meet