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German Reflexive Verbs

German Reflexive Verbs are verbs which (in combination with the reflexive pronoun myself, yourself, etc) are used when the subject and object of the sentence are the same. For example, 'I dress myself', 'She fed herself', 'He locked himself out', etc.

There are two steps to correctly forming German reflexive verbs:

1. Use the correct form of the reflexive pronoun

2. Combine the reflexive pronoun with the correct tense of the verb

Using the Correct Form of the Reflexive Pronoun

The reflexive pronoun is used for the object of the sentence. This can either be the direct object (which requires the accusative case), or the indirect object (which requires the dative case). The reflexive pronoun will therefore be as follows (depending on who we are referring to)...

(Direct Object)
(Indirect Object)
(familiar singular)
himself / herself /
(familiar plular)
(formal - sing & pl.)

* Note that these forms are identical in both accusative case and dative case, except for myself  and yourself (singular).

Combine the Reflexive Pronoun with the Verb

German reflexive verbs are used quite frequently. You need to combine the reflexive pronoun with the verb using the required verb tense.

Let's take a look at a common example using the verb waschen - to wash. (We will use present tense for this example.)

Examples in Present Tense
German Reflexive Verbs
I am washing myself
ich wasche mich
You are washing yourself
du wäschst dich
He/she/it is washing himself/herself/itself
er/sie/es wäscht sich
We are washing ourselves
wir waschen uns
You are washing yourselves
ihr wascht euch
You are washing yourself/yourselves (formal)
Sie waschen sich
They are washing themselves
sie waschen sich

Note how the verb changes when we use other verb tenses:

Examples - Other Tenses
Reflexive Verb
I washed myself (perfect tense)
ich habe mich gewaschen
I was washing myself (imperfect tense)
ich wusch mich
I will wash myself (future tense)
ich werde mich waschen

Also, note the use of dative case (indirect object) for the reflexive pronoun when another direct object is present in common phrases such as these...

Examples - Dative Case
Reflexive Verb
I wash my face
ich wasche mir das Gesicht
You wash your hands
du wäschst dir die Hände

When the reflexive verb is also a separable verb (the prefix of the verb separates from the main part of the verb is certain tenses), the separable prefix will follow the reflexive pronoun. For example, with the reflexive verb sich anziehen - to get dressed, the separable prefix an- appears after the pronoun as follows...

Examples - Separable Verbs
Reflexive Verb
I get dressed
ich ziehe mich an
You get dressed
du ziehst dich an

And when a modal verb is used, the infinitive of the main verb is used instead of the conjugated version. For example, the German reflexive verb sich setzen - to sit down, can be used in combination with the modal verb as follows...

Examples - Modal Verbs
Reflexive Verb
I must sit (myself) down
ich muss mich setzen
You must sit (yourself) down
du musst dich setzen