Reflexive verbs

Reflexive Verben

In German, reflexive verbs are those with the reflexive pronoun sich (oneself), which is inflected together with the verb for person.

Examples of sentences with reflexive verbs

  • Translation
  • We often argue with each other.
  • Translation
  • I am meeting my friends at 10.

Conjugation and applications

Conjugation of the reflexive verbs for persons in the dative case (Dativ)
Person Reflexivpronomen Beispiel Translation
ich mir Ich wasche mir die Hände. I am washing (literally: myself) my hands.
du dir Du wäsch(s)t dir die Hände. You are washing (literally: youself) your hands.
er/sie/es sich Er wäscht sich die Hände. He is washing his hands.
wir uns Wir waschen uns die Hände. We are washing (literally: ourselves) our hands.
ihr euch Ihr wascht euch die Hände. You are washing (literally: yourselves) your hands.
sie/Sie sich Sie waschen sich die Hände. They are washing (themselves) their hands.

The umlaut a 👉 ä in the second and third person singular (du, er/sie/es) is a result of the conjugation of the verb waschen. It doesn't have anything to do with the reflexive verb.

Comparison of the reflexive pronoun and the personal pronoun in the dative case (Dativ)

Reflexive pronoun for almost every person has the same form as the personal pronoun but in the third person singular (er/sie/es) and in the third person plural (sie/Sie), these two differ. The table and examples below show what the difference is.

  • Translation
  • He is combing (himself) his hair. [(!) He is combing him (another male's hair) the hair.]
  • Explanation
  • Both sentences are correct but have different meanings. The first uses a reflexive pronoun and the second uses a personal pronoun.
  • Translation
  • They can afford themselves to buy a new car. [(!) The sentence in parentheses is incorrect]
  • Explanation
  • The first sentence is correct and the second one is incorrect because the verb leisten is not reflexive and it has a different meaning, which cannot be used this way.
Person Reflexivpronomen Personalpronomen
ich mir mir
du dir dir
er/sie/es sich (!) ihm/ihr/ihm (!)
wir uns uns
ihr euch euch
sie/Sie sich (!) ihnen/Ihnen (!)
Conjugation of the reflexive verb for person in the accusative case (Akkusativ)
Person Reflexivpronomen Beispiel Translation
ich mich Ich freue mich. I am happy.
du dich Du freust dich. You (singular) are happy.
er/sie/es sich Er freut sich. He is happy.
wir uns Wir freuen uns. We are happy.
ihr euch Ihr freut euch. You (plural) are happy.
sie/Sie sich Sie freuen sich. They are happy.

Exceptions and special cases

Reflexive verbs in the (Dativ) and (Akkusativ) case

Some reflexive verbs may be used in the dative case (Dativ) or in the accusative case (Akkusativ) e.g. sich waschen/kämmen/rasieren - to wash/comb/shave (oneself).

  • Translation
  • I am washing (literally: myself) my hands.
  • Translation
  • I am washing myself.
  • Translation
  • I imagine I can fly.
  • Explanation
  • sich (etwas) +Dativ vor|stellen - to imagine sth
  • Translation
  • Should I first introduce myself?
  • Explanation
  • sich vor|stellen - to introduce oneself