Reflexive Verbs in German: The Ultimate Guide to German Reflexive Verbs in Accusative and Dative

Guten morgen!

Let’s say you want to talk about your typical daily routine. But in doing so, you will need to focus on an important group of verbs – reflexive verbs in German. Spring German (a project I co-founded) made a video on talking about your daily routine:

In this blog post, you will learn how to use reflexive verbs such as “sich waschen“, “sich rasieren” and “sich entspannen” correctly. These verbs describe actions that you perform on yourself and are very common in German.

1. What are reflexive verbs in German?

Effortless Answers

A reflexive verb is a verb where the subject and object refer to the same person or thing. In other words, the action of the verb is being performed by the subject onto itself.

Reflexive verbs in German are an important concept that students often struggle with. Especially if you’re at a beginner or intermediate levels Let me break it down for you in simple terms:

Let’s take a look at two examples immediately:

  • Ich wasche mich. (I wash myself.)
  • Er rasiert sich. (He shaves himself.)

See the underlined words?

Reflexive verbs are formed by adding the reflexive pronoun “sich” for third person singular and plural, and the corresponding reflexive pronoun (mich, dich, uns, euch) for the other persons.

The reflexive pronoun must agree with the subject in number and person:

SubjectReflexive Pronoun
ichmich
dudich
er/sie/essich
wiruns
ihreuch
sie/Siesich

The reflexive pronoun usually comes right after the verb, except in the present perfect tense, where it comes at the end of the sentence.

2. When do you use reflexive pronouns and verbs in German?

Ideally, you would use reflexive verbs in German when you perform an action on yourself. This, of course, can happen in different situations:

  1. Personal hygiene:
    • sich waschen (to wash oneself)
    • sich kämmen (to comb one’s hair)
    • sich rasieren (to shave oneself)
    • sich duschen (to shower)
    • sich die Zähne putzen (to brush one’s teeth)
    • sich die Haare föhnen (to blow-dry one’s hair)
    • sich schminken (to put on makeup)
  2. Movement and change of position:
    • sich hinsetzen (to sit down)
    • sich beeilen (to hurry up)
    • sich bücken (to bend over)
    • sich strecken (to stretch oneself)
    • sich drehen (to turn around)
    • sich bewegen (to move)
    • sich aufsetzen (to sit up)
    • sich hinlegen (to lie down)
  3. Emotions and mental states:
    • sich freuen (to be happy/glad)
    • sich ärgern (to be annoyed)
    • sich konzentrieren (to concentrate)
    • sich entspannen (to relax)
    • sich wundern (to wonder/be surprised)
    • sich langweilen (to be bored)
    • sich fürchten (to be afraid)
    • sich schämen (to be ashamed)
  4. Reciprocal actions:
    • sich lieben (to love each other)
    • sich umarmen (to hug each other)
    • sich küssen (to kiss each other)
    • sich streiten (to argue with each other)
    • sich verstehen (to understand each other)
  5. Idiomatic expressions:
    • sich auf den Weg machen (to set off/depart)
    • sich Mühe geben (to make an effort)
    • sich Sorgen machen (to worry)
    • sich an etwas erinnern (to remember something)
    • sich bei jemandem bedanken (to thank someone)

3. Use German reflexive verbs in accusative and dative

Reflexive verbs in German predominantly use the accusative case for the reflexive pronoun:

  • Ich wasche mich. (I wash myself. “mich” is accusative)
  • Du kämmt dich. (You comb your hair. “dich” is accusative)
  • Wir ärgern uns. (We annoy ourselves. “uns” is accusative)

The accusative case is used because the reflexive pronoun is the direct object receiving the action of the verb.

reflexive verbs in german can be used for talking about combing your hair

But!

There are some cases where dative is used with reflexive verbs. It’s usually when expressing movement or a change of state/condition. Like this:

  • Ich stelle mir das vor. (I imagine that to myself. “mir” is dative)
  • Er hat sich ein Bein gebrochen. (He broke a leg to himself. “sich” is dative)

4. How to recognize reflexive verbs in German?

Finding reflexive verbs in German sentences can be tricky at first…

You might think: is this dative? Is this accusative? (Learn about the German cases here).

Honestly, there are some tips and tricks that can help you identify them.

The most obvious giveaway of a reflexive verb is the presence of reflexive pronouns like mich, dich, sich, uns, euch. If you see one of these pronouns in a sentence, chances are it’s a reflexive verb!

If you see a pronoun like “sich” immediately following a verb, it’s likely a reflexive verb. Some verbs are exclusively reflexive, meaning they only make sense when used with a reflexive pronoun: sich freuen (to be happy/glad), sich beeilen (to hurry up). More on these later.

5. Learn German reflexive verb conjugation

Conjugating reflexive verbs in German follows the same pattern as regular verbs, but you need to add the appropriate reflexive pronoun (mich, dich, sich, uns, euch) to each conjugated form.

It’s really not that hard!

Here’s how you can conjugate reflexive verbs in the present tense:

SubjectConjugated Verb + Reflexive Pronoun
ichwasche mich
duwäschst dich
er/sie/eswäscht sich
wirwaschen uns
ihrwascht euch
sie/Siewaschen sich

The same pattern applies to all other tenses and verb forms (future, subjunctive, etc.). Always conjugate the verb first, and then add the appropriate reflexive pronoun based on the subject.

6. The most common reflexive verbs in German

In the next table you’ll see, Effortless Conversations gathered the most common reflexive verbs in German. You can check them because they are about different topics and contexts – like the ones we already mentioned in this blog post.

What’s even better is that there are example sentences with lexical chunks, so you can practice Conversation Based Chunking while reading these German sentences.

What is Conversation Based Chunking? Well, it’s a good starting point for learning and practicing these essential reflexive verbs. Sign up now to learn more!

Reflexive VerbMeaningExample
sich waschento wash oneselfIch wasche mich jeden Morgen. (I wash myself every morning.)
sich anziehento get dressedEr zieht sich schnell an. (He gets dressed quickly.)
sich beeilento hurry upWir müssen uns beeilen, sonst verpassen wir den Zug. (We must hurry up, otherwise we’ll miss the train.)
sich freuento be happy/gladIch freue mich auf die Ferien. (I’m looking forward to the holidays.)
sich ärgernto be annoyed/upsetSie ärgert sich über die Verspätung. (She is annoyed about the delay.)
sich setzento sit downSetzt euch bitte. (Please sit down.)
sich vorstellento introduce oneself / to imagineDarf ich mich vorstellen? (May I introduce myself?)
sich erinnernto rememberIch erinnere mich an den Tag. (I remember the day.)
sich bückento bend downEr bückt sich, um den Ball aufzuheben. (He bends down to pick up the ball.)
sich rasierento shaveMein Vater rasiert sich jeden Morgen. (My father shaves every morning.)
sich kämmento comb one’s hairSie kämmt sich vor dem Spiegel. (She combs her hair in front of the mirror.)
sich entspannento relaxNach der Arbeit entspanne ich mich gerne. (After work, I like to relax.)
sich verabschiedento say goodbyeWir verabschieden uns von unseren Gästen. (We say goodbye to our guests.)

7. Practice reflexive verbs in German – Practice Worksheet

Now, it’s time to practice the reflexive verbs in German. Lucky for you, we have practice worksheets! And, we have a Full Practice Worksheet Library – you only have to sign up by clicking the button below.

8. Use reflexive verbs and reflexive pronouns with Conversation Based Chunking

When it comes to reflexive verbs, you can create chunks around common situations where they are used.

A chunk could be: “Jeden Morgen wasche ich mich und putze mir die Zähne.” (Every morning, I wash myself and brush my teeth.) By practicing these chunks in context, you’ll reinforce the correct usage of reflexive verbs like “sich waschen” and the corresponding reflexive pronouns.

Another effective chunk could revolve around emotions: “Ich freue mich auf das Wochenende, aber manchmal ärgere ich mich über die Arbeit.” (I’m looking forward to the weekend, but sometimes I get annoyed with work.) This chunk highlights the reflexive verbs “sich freuen” and “sich ärgern” in a conversational context.

Looking to learn more with Conversation Based Chunking? It’s your chance to sign up and get an essential chunking list, my favourite resource to learn German and access to our Full Practice Worksheet Library!

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