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The verb anschauen can be used either as a reflexive verb or not

jdn/etw anschauen: to look at sb/sth

sich dat etw anschauen: to take a look at sth

I have trouble understanding the difference between these two meanings. When should I use one over the other? What are some examples?

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You may find this article interesting: (it's about ansehen, but I suppose most of it applies to anschauen as well) – karoshi May 18 '14 at 20:24
@karoshi... as far as this question goes, yes, "anschauen" and "ansehen" work the same – Emanuel May 18 '14 at 22:28
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The difference between both is very subtle.

sich etwas/jemanden anschauen is more like to regard. There is an aim at looking, for example finding mistakes, evaluating, considering about.

etwas/jemanden anschauen is more like to look at. It need not have an aim.


„Ich schaue den See an.“ Nothing about it, just relaxing.

„Ich schaue mir den See an.“ Let's find a good spot for fishing.

Unsure side mark: I've got a feeling, that this subtle difference might be overriden, if the sentence gets to complex by other pronous and verbs. Then, the nonreflexive case is always used. But I can't find a good example for it.

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"Ich schaue den See an" hört sich für mich so an, als würdest Du erwarten, dass er zurückschaut. – Carsten S May 18 '14 at 22:49
I think, that the non-reflexive version would be mainly used in descriptive texts, such as a novel, where you would want to describe what a character does from a third person perspective. – konkret May 19 '14 at 3:16

»Sich etwas anschauen« has the meaning of exploration or investigation.
»Etwas anschauen« (without "sich") has the meaning of watching something.

In a hospital:

Patient: »Herr Doktor, mir tut der Bauch so weh.«
Doktor: »Zeigen Sie mal her, ich werde mir das anschauen
Während der Patient untersucht wird schaut er sich die Diplome an der Wand an.

english translation:

Patient: "Doctor, my belly is hurting so much."
Doktor: "Show me, I'll exam it."
While the patient is being examined he watches the diploma on the wall.

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Only examples for the first case? – Carsten S May 19 '14 at 10:47

If you say: Der Film muss interessant sein, den will ich mir unbedingt anschauen you express the idea that you personally have a keen interest in seeing that film. Of course, you can say den Film schaue ich an, but it is not so idiomatic as the first variant.

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