Reflexive verb

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A reflexive verb expresses the activity of a subject (speaker) that relates to himself (himself). Reflexivity is a special case of the direction of action of a verb ( diathesis ) .

Reflexive verbs in German

In German there is a certain number of verbs which, in conjunction with a reflexive pronoun, enable reflexive statements about activities; that is, grammatical subject and grammatical object are identical in such verbs. For example , to express that the one who washes and the one who is washed are the same person, the reflexive pronoun himself is used to form the reflexive verb to wash : Martin is washing himself.

So-called real reflexive verbs are also constructed using reflexive pronouns (e.g. be careful , concentrate ), but linguistically they do not allow an object that deviates from the grammatical subject:

Martin washes himself. - Martin washes his little brother.
Martin concentrates. - not , however: Martin focused his little brother.

In cases like The army concentrates its forces , the verb concentrate has a different meaning ('to contract') and is not a reflexive verb.

In addition to the semantic peculiarity, it is morphologically interesting that reflexive verbs cannot form a passive :

Martin washes himself. - not , however: Martin is washed up.

In addition, reflexive verbs the reflexive in Substantivierung lose if it this to high frequency or lexicalized conversions:

Martin is acting strange. - Martin's behavior is strange. - not : Martin's behavior is strange.

Usually, however, the reflexive pronoun is retained for semantic clarity:

Martin washes himself with pleasure. - Martin is enjoying himself washing himself - not : Martin is enjoying the washing because it now appears as if Martin is generally enjoying washing.


  • Duden. The grammar. 8th, revised edition. Dudenverlag, Mannheim, Vienna and Zurich 2009. ISBN 978-3-411-04048-3 . Chapter “Reflexive Verbs”, pp. 399–404.

Web links

Wiktionary: reflexive verb  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: true reflexive verb  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Duden . The grammar. 8th edition. Bibliographisches Institut / Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2009, ISBN 978-3-411-04048-3 , p. 725 f .