A Straightforward Guide To German Reflexive Verbs

German reflexive verbs a straightforward guide

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.

By the way, if you're getting started in German, my recommendation is story-based learning and that's exactly what you'll find in German Uncovered, my immersive and innovative beginner course.

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.

For example:

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.

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.

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 pronouns chart

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.

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.

In this example, sich interessieren für, is an accusative reflexive verb, so I'm using the 1st person singular accusative pronoun mich.

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.

I'm dealing with the singular 2nd person here and a dative reflexive verb, so I need the dative reflexive pronoun dir.

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.

When the object of your verb is a pronoun, the object must come between the conjugated verb and reflexive pronoun.

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.

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.

German reflexive verbs in different tenses

Remember, if you want to replace the direct object with a pronoun in your dative sentence, the pronoun must come before the reflexive pronoun.

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.

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.

German reflexive verb expressions

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!

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