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?

  • 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)
    – persson
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 20:24
  • 1
    @karoshi... as far as this question goes, yes, "anschauen" and "ansehen" work the same
    – Emanuel
    Commented May 18, 2014 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 1
    "Ich schaue den See an" hört sich für mich so an, als würdest Du erwarten, dass er zurückschaut.
    – Carsten S
    Commented May 18, 2014 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
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 3:16
  • I'm still confused here. Isn't „Ich schaue mir den See an“ still not reflexive, as it uses the dative "mir" and not "mich?" Is „Ich schaue mich den See an,“ which is now clearly reflexive, proper German?
    – mbmast
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 11:04
  • 1
    @mbmast, German grammar requires you to use reflexive pronouns in dative case if there is a direct object in the sentence. Only the 1st and 2nd person singular are different between accusative and dative reflexive pronouns (mich/mir, dich/dir). Commented Apr 19, 2019 at 12:43

»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 examine it."
While the patient is being examined he watches the diploma on the wall.

  • Only examples for the first case?
    – Carsten S
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 10:47
  • Ich würde sich im dritten Satz auch fett machen. Dann wird es: "he examines the diplomas on the wall." Das verdeutlicht nicht unbedingt den Unterschied. <g> Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 20:10
  • 1
    Das Wort "watch" als Übersetzung für "etwas anschauen" und im zweiten Beispiel passt nicht wirklich. "Watch" benutzt man in der Regel wenn man annimmt, das das Objekt etwas tut oder etwas mit ihm passiert, also bedeutet es eher "beobachten", "zuschauen" oder "bewachen". Meiner Meinung nach wäre im Beispiel also auch "examine" oder einfach "look at" passender.
    – RoToRa
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 14:17

The reflexive version is more intense.

  • Anschauen is to watch (e.g. a football game).
  • Sich anschauen is to watch closely, or to take a closer look, in other words, to investigate, examine or inspect.

Etwas / jemanden anschauen To look at Ich habe ihn angeschaut und gesehen, dass er heute keine Krawatte trägt. I looked at him and saw that he's not wearing a tie today.

Schau mich an, wenn ich mit dir rede! Look at me when I'm talking to you!

Sich etwas / jemanden anschauen To watch Ich habe mir einen Film angeschaut. I watched a movie. Er schaut sich gerade die Leute auf der Straße an. He's watching the people walking on the street.

A lot of people nowadays use anschauen instead of sich anschauen such as in Ich schaue den Film an. But, IMHO, that sounds totally wrong and stupid.


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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