From Der Spiegel:

In ihren Vorstellungen bastelten die Westler sich einen Ostdeutschen zurecht, der so fremd war, dass man mit dem gar nicht wiedervereinigt sein wollte.

It is also possible to move sich before the subject of the sentence:

In ihren Vorstellungen bastelten sich die Westler einen Ostdeutschen zurecht, ...

Is there any difference in meaning/connotation between the two versions? Or are they exactly the same, and it's just the matter of the author's preference?

  • I've been wondering about sich-positioning for a long time. In my perception your second example is more natural. However, several times I noted that politicians and media people use a - for my taste - uncommon positioning of sich.
    – Chris
    Oct 4 '14 at 18:06
  • related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/6474/…
    – Matthias
    Oct 4 '14 at 23:29

Both versions are possible, and they are equivalent. The Duden has a nice short article about this phenomenon.


You have to distinguish between semi-reflexive verbs (Ich wasche mich/dich/sie...), and fully reflexive ones (Ich freue mich/dich/sie/...). Some reflexive verbs come with a dative sich. To find out whether those are fully or semi reflexive, try to replace sich with another dative pronoun: Das Kind merkt sich/dir/ihr alles. So sich merken is fully reflexive.

If the verb is semi-reflexive, then technically, the sich can take on any position, except for the Nachfeld (under consideration of other rules like V2, of course):

Sich hat er in Venedig rasiert. (emphasis on himself)
Er hat sich in Venedig rasiert. (no connotation)
Er hat in Venedig sich rasiert. (connotation: and not someone else)

So basically it behaves like a direct object, which also can't be in the Nachfeld (Wir haben gesehen die Vorstellung.). The sich of fully-reflexive verbs can't even be in the Vorfeld:

Sich freut sie auf die Ferien.

Other positions:

Sie freut auf die Ferien sich. (sounds very unnatural)
Auf die Ferien freut sie sich. (sounds natural)
Auf die Ferien freut sich sie. (emphasis on sie )
Sie freut sich auf die Ferien. (natural, if not standard)

The pattern I see is that the subject, the verb, and the reflexive pronoun stick together in the legit examples.

Sich etw. zurechtbasteln

This is a somewhat problematic example. One one hand "jemand anderem etwas zurechtbasteln" is possible, but you will rarely hear anything such, especially in connection with phrases like "in ihren Vorstellungen", that metaphorically uses basteln to describe a mental process (which is obviously restricted to the subject, thus letting it appear fully reflexive).

The good thing is, that no matter as what you see it, both positions remain correct:

In ihren Vorstellungen bastelten sich die Westler einen Ostdeutschen zurecht, [...]
In ihren Vorstellungen bastelten die Westler sich einen Ostdeutschen zurecht, [...]

  • You seem to suggest that "sich zurechtbasteln" is a semi-reflexive verb, which is wrong IMHO. Also, though it might still be correct, it should be noted that the 3rd sentence is quite unusual. And I don't think the 4rd one is possible at all. --- "Nach dem langen Schuljahr freuten die Kinder sich unbändig auf die Ferien." is quite normal and has the subject between verb and "sich".
    – Matthias
    Oct 4 '14 at 20:50
  • By using it in the examples directly following your explanation about the positioning of "sich" with semi-reflexive verbs. --- Technically you are right: "Ich bastele mir etwas zurecht" is equivalent with "Ich wasche mir die Haare". But I wonder whether you will ever find "zurechtbasteln" (in the metaphorical meaning that is used here) with a dative object that is not a reflexive pronoun. Maybe that's why it feels (to me, at least) like a fully-reflexive verb.
    – Matthias
    Oct 4 '14 at 21:17
  • E.g. could you really ask "Wem haben die Westler etwas zurechtgebastelt?"
    – Matthias
    Oct 4 '14 at 21:19
  • Looking at this nice page on canoo.net, I am wondering whether "zurechtbasteln" and "sich etwas zurechtbasteln" have different meanings. I'd rather say yes - but it's a borderline case, because it's just that the one is "real" and the other methaphorical. But if there is a difference (and we follow canoo.net), than it is a "reflexive Verbvariante" which has to be handled like a true reflexive verb. - Maybe we could raise this as a question of it's own here?
    – Matthias
    Oct 4 '14 at 22:57
  • In case your last question referred to your latest edit (which I didn't notice before): no objection ;-), I only wonder whether the first part wouldn't better fit the related question than this one (see my comment to the question)
    – Matthias
    Oct 4 '14 at 23:37

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