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Verbs: reflexive verbs

‘Reflexive’ verbs are verbs like ‘I wash myself’ or ‘I dress myself’ where you have to include ‘myself’ to show that the person doing the action is doing it to themselves.

Reflexive verbs

A lot of reflexive verbs are related to your daily routine (eg ‘getting yourself ready’). Some verbs that are not reflexive in English are reflexive in German. One example is ‘sich baden‘ (which means ‘to have a bath’ or ‘bathe myself’).

Notice how the German has ‘sich‘ in front of the verb. If you see this in a dictionary, it shows you that it’s a reflexive verb.

The table below shows some useful reflexive verbs.

Common reflexive verbs

German Translation
sich anziehen To get dressed
sich waschen To wash
sich baden To have a bath
sich rasieren To shave
sich entscheiden To make up your mind
sich (gut) verstehen To get on (well)
sich streiten To argue
sich interessieren für To be interested in

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are the part of the verb which refers to ‘myself’/ ‘herself’, eg I’m washing myself and my brother is shaving himself or in German ‘Ich wasche mich’ and ‘Mein Bruder rasiert sich’.

Reflexive pronouns

Pronoun Reflective Pronoun translation Reflective translation
ich mich (mir)* I Myself
du dich (dir)* You (sing) Yourself
er/sie/es sich He/she/it Himself/herself/itself
wir uns We Ourselves
ihr euch You (pl) Yourselves
sie sich They Themselves

All the reflexive pronouns above are accusative and dative (and nearly always used in the accusative). The only two which differ in the dative form are ‘mich/mir’ and ‘dich/dir’.

Examples

  • Ich ziehe mich morgens an -> I get dressed in the morning.
  • Er wäscht sich und rasiert sich vor dem Spiegel -> He washes himself and shaves in front of the mirror.
  • Wir interessieren uns für spanische Filme -> We are interested in Spanish films.
  • Ich habe mich nicht entschieden -> I haven’t decided.

Tenses

Reflexive verbs in the present tense

The verbs behave in the same way normal present tense verbs behave. You just need to add the reflexive pronoun. This comes straight after the verb.

Here are some examples:

  • Ich wasche mich-> I wash myself.
  • Mein Bruder rasiert sich-> My brother shaves himself.
  • Wir verstehen uns gut-> We get on well.

Reflexive verbs in the perfect (past) tense

The verbs behave in the same way that normal perfect tense verbs behave. All reflexive verbs above use ‘haben’ in the perfect tense, so you don’t need to worry about whether to use ‘haben’ or ‘sein’. Add the reflexive pronoun straight after ‘haben’.

Examples

  • Ich habe mich gebadet -> I had a bath.
  • Meine Schwester hat sich erkältet -> My sister got a cold.
  • Meine Freunde und ich haben uns heute gestritten -> My friends and I argued today.

Reflexive verbs in the future tense

Reflexive verbs follow the normal future tense rules. Add the reflexive pronoun straight after ‘werden’.

Examples

  • Ich werde mich schminken -> I am going to put some make up on.
  • Meine Mutter wird sich entscheiden, ob ich gehen darf oder nicht -> My mum is going to decide if I can go or not.
  • Wir werden uns vor der Party duschen -> We’re going to have a shower before the party.

Slightly different reflexive pronouns

Sometimes, you need to use a slightly different form of the reflexive pronoun. For example, you would say ‘Ich wasche mich’ (I wash myself) BUT you would also say ‘Ich wasche mir die Haare’ (I wash my hair).

In English, you would use the possessive pronoun (my/your/his etc), but in German you are saying something like ‘I wash to me the hair’ ‘you clean to you the teeth’. Notice that:

  • It only happens very rarely, so you can learn a few phrases by heart.
  • The only difference from the normal reflexive forms are the ‘ich’ form (‘mir’ instead of ‘mich’) and the ‘du’ form (‘dir’ instead of ‘dich’).

Common phrases

  • Sich die Haare/die Hände/das Gesicht waschen-> To wash hair/hands/face.
  • Meine Mutter wäscht sich die Haare-> My mum is washing her hair.
  • Ich habe mir die Zähne geputzt-> I have cleaned my teeth.
  • Wirst du dir jetzt die Haare kämmen?-> Are you going to comb your hair now?

You would not be expected to understand this fully at GCSE level, but if you are interested in finding out more, look up ‘German reflexive pronouns’ on the internet. The first list shows accusative forms, while these ones are in the dative.

What English speakers most often get wrong:

  • Missing the reflexive pronoun out when it’s not used in English.

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