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I've been studying German for some time and still I'm always unsure where to put the sich particle; this insecurity slows down my speech, in particular.

Can somebody give a rule and an example with complements, nicht-negation, "als Hauptsatz", "als Nebensatz", with a separable reflexive verb and everything that you could think might contribute to help to grasp the correct location of sich in a sentence?

I mean, the TeKaMoLo rule doesn't really help here. Also note that I'm asking something different from this question.

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I always put sich after the verb i.e. in the third place. The verb then goes wherever it wants to go according to the placement of clause in the sentence. This makes it easy for me to realize early on whether the verb is reflexive or not. –  Anurag Kalia Mar 30 '13 at 19:59
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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Having a quick look at the link TvF posted, another good reference came to my mind.

On belleslettres.eu, there's a good article (in German, including video) on where to place a reflexive pronoun.

The most essential information are already given in the other answers. The reflexive pronoun is usually placed behind the verb. This is valid for a simple sentence like:

Er hat sich (nicht) verändert.

This, of course, can't be true for questions and subordinate clauses in which - as you know - the verb is placed at the end of the sentence. In these cases the reflexive pronoun follows the subject.

Ob er sich geändert hat?

Es hätte mich auch gewundert, wenn er sich verändert hätte.

Having said that, it is much more natural to place the reflexive pronoun before the subject in case of the subject being a noun:

Ob sich Peter geändert hat?

Es hätte mich auch gewundert, wenn sich Peter verändert hätte.

The rule is given in the link I provided. Subject before object; but, in case of having a mixture of reflexive pronoun and noun, place the shortest word before the other. Since the reflexive pronoun is shorter than the noun it precedes the noun.

It doesn't sound odd, however, to place the reflexive pronoun behind the noun. It even can be happen deliberately for emphasis reasons.

And last but not least, but this is also given in the link above, in case of ambiguity you need to put the reflexive pronoun behind the subject. Compare:

Ich habe gesehen, wie sie Peter geschlagen hat. (missverständlich)

Ich habe gesehen, wie Peter sie geschlagen hat.

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This page lists the rules in more detail, and with examples. You should find most of your answers there.

(EDIT) Excerpts pertaining to the question:

Today, the reflexive pronoun is usually pulled as far to the beginning as possible. In the main clause, the reflexive pronoun is usually placed directly behind the conjugated verb: "Der Professor ärgert sich über die schlechten Prüfungsergebnisse seiner Studenten." [...]

If the subject is a noun (or a name) and the first position is used for a temporal identifier, the reflexive pronoun is placed before or after the subject. It is usually better style to put the subject after the reflexive pronoun. "Gestern hat sich der Mann nicht rasiert" [...]

In the subordinate clause, the reflexive pronoun usually is placed directly after the conjunction, but before the subject. But just as in a main clause, the reflexive pronoun can come after the subject, if this subject is a noun. "Die Menge wich zurück, als sich der Zug näherte." [...]

But if the subject of the subordinate clause is a pronoun, then it is placed before the reflexive pronoun: "Die Menge wich zurück, als er sich näherte."

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A sentence that has sich in it is a Reflexivsatz. Sich is a "Reflexivpronomen", just like mir, mich, dir, dich...

Off the top of my head, I agree with Anurag Kalia and his comment that, in a statement, the "Reflexivpronomen" belongs after the verb that follows the subject that the verb refers to.
In a question, however, the "Reflexivpronomen" is after the subject and before the verb.

Look at the link for some example sentences.

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Thanks. The examples in the link are more or less simple. I'm rather asking about a more general rule. The rule you gave is very useful for Hauptsätze, but according to your rule the following sentece has the 'sich' in the right place: "Du muss andere Möglichkeit suchen, weil das nicht machen lässt sich" klingt seltsam, oder? –  c.p. Apr 1 '13 at 14:34
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Your example would correctly be "Du musst eine andere Möglichkeit suchen, weil sich das nicht machen lässt". In that case, you have an inversion because of the "weil". If it was "denn" instead of "weil", the sentence would be: "Du musst eine andere Möglichkeit suchen, denn das lässt sich nicht machen" If that sentence was split, it would be "Du musst eine andere Möglichkeit suchen. Das lässt sich nicht machen". As you can see, in both those cases, the "sich" directly follows the verb "lässt". –  TvF Apr 3 '13 at 9:56
    
@TvF thanks for the remark. I was just questioning the completeness of this answer. I did that by producing, following the given rule, a sentence which sounds strange. I agree your version is the correct one. –  c.p. Apr 4 '13 at 0:46
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