I buy me a coffee — The reflexive in German
When I lived in Vancouver I had a German friend who would always ask us the following question: “I’m going to buy me a coffee, would anyone else like one?”
We always tried to explain to him that English unlike German does not use the reflexive as much as German. Though in the case above one could exchange “me” with “myself” and it would be a very explicit sentence.
The grammatical term reflexive means that the verb’s subject (the person or thing doing the verb) is also its object (the person or thing being acted upon). The object is thus a reflection of the of the subject. To use an English example, let’s look at the sentence: “We are enjoying ourselves.” In English the reflexive pronoun always ends in -self or -selves. So the sentence: “He has injured himself.” is also reflexive.
When it come to verbs dealing with parts of the body or possession, German uses reflexive verbs much more than in English. As we will see English would usually choose to use a possessive article or even leave the object out of altogether.
- Max is washing his hands. (Max wäscht seine Hände)
- Max wäscht sich die Hände. (Max is washing himself the hands.)
- I’m shaving. (Ich rasiere.)
- Ich rasiere mich. (I’m shaving myself.)
Note that in both of the examples above the German sentence on the second line is the linguistically most accurate and correct expression.
There is some good news here for everyone who hates memorizing pronouns. Between the accusative and dative reflective pronouns there are only 7 different ones to remember. They are in the following table:
Sometimes you may hear or read the words selber or selbst used after the reflexive pronoun. These usually add emphasis that the action is being done on one’s own. While their meaning are the same, it is considered better form to use selbst.
Most German reflexive German verbs can also be used as non-reflexive verbs, but their meaning may alter slightly or completely. Most German-English dictionaries will denote reflexive verbs using one of the following three abbreviations: s. – sich – refl. The infinitive is usually written with sich + verb, ex. sich setzen, sich erkälten.
Practice these reflexive verbs and more on Quizlet: