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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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1  
You may find this article interesting: yourdailygerman.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/meaning-ansehen (it's about ansehen, but I suppose most of it applies to anschauen as well) –  karoshi May 18 at 20:24
    
@karoshi... as far as this question goes, yes, "anschauen" and "ansehen" work the same –  Emanuel May 18 at 22:28

3 Answers 3

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.

Examples:

„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 Schultz May 18 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 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 Schultz May 19 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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