My Special Problem: When Common Verbs Are Reflexive Verbs In German


Reflexive verbs indicate that the action aims at the person acting. In the German language, the pronoun sich indicates that a verb is reflexive. This pronoun is called a reflexive pronoun.

When you are learning German you encounter two problems:

1. Some verbs can be used as reflexive verbs as well as not reflexive verbs. The meaning of the verbs often differs .

2. Many common verbs are reflexive only in German.

Let’s have a look at the verbs:

1. Verbs Can Be Reflexive And Non-Reflexive

Some verbs can be reflexive and non-reflexive depending on the context. The meaning is often very different.

When you are learning a new verb always check in your dictionary wether it has an additional reflexive meaning. It would be best if you learned both the reflexive and the non-reflexive form. However, if this is too much work, keep in mind that there is a reflexive form.

Example: versprechen / sich versprechen:

1. Ich verspreche meiner Schwester, sie morgen anzurufen. (I promise my sister to call her tomorrow.)

Versprechen here is non reflexive. The action is aimed at another person, in this case meine Schwester. The meaning is to say that you intend to do something. With most verbs the non reflexive use is the most common.

2. Sie verspricht sich viel Geld von dem Auftrag. (She hopes she gets a lot of money from this contract.)

Sich versprechen meaning to hope to get is rarely used. You usually find it in reports, newspaper articles, official plans.

3. Er verspricht sich oft bei langen Wörtern. (He often makes slips of the (his) tongue in long words.)

Sich versprechen is very often used in the sense of to make a slip of the tongue.

4. Sie versprachen sich schon als Kinder zu heiraten. (They promised each other as children to get married to each other.)

In this sentence versprechen only appears to be reflexive: Person 1 promises Person 2 to marry him or her, AND Person 2 promises Person 1 to marry him or her. In sentences of this kind the pronounn einander (each other) makes more sense:

Sie versprachen einander schon als Kinder zu heiraten.

2. Some Common Verbs Are Reflexive Only In German

Although many languages have reflexive verbs, not always are verbs reflexive in both the learner’s own language and in the target language.

You will have to memorize the reflexive verbs. Maybe you can use a list in your grammar book . For the most important verbs create your own list, which you keep with you when writing or reading.

Here is a small overview of some common English verbs that are reflexive in German.

to think of something – sich etwas ausdenken; to queue – sich anstellen; to sit down – sich (hin)setzen; to feel – sich fühlen; to wonder – sich fragen; to be angry about – sich ärgern; to split up – sich trennen;

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