From Spiegel Magazine:

Das ist eine Vermutung, nicht unbegründet, aber eben eine Vermutung. Um sich der Wahrheit weiter anzunähern, wird es auf die Ermittler ankommen.

Am I correct in understanding that sich here is impersonal, i.e., does not refer to anyone in particular? Is it similar to something like the following?

Es ist nicht einfach, sich so etwas vorzustellen.

  • Yes, this is correct. Apr 15, 2015 at 17:59
  • 1
    This sentence is at most borderline grammatical. I am not sure why, but somehow I refuse to read sich as impersonal in this sentence; since it obviously has to be read that way to make sense, the sentence is not grammatical for me.
    – user2183
    Apr 16, 2015 at 22:35
  • There's nothing wrong with this sentence as far as I'm concerned.
    – Ingmar
    Apr 17, 2015 at 5:21

2 Answers 2


Yes, sich in both of your examples is impersonal. And yes, both sentences of yours are entirely analogous, because both use infinitive constructions.

Infinitives can be connected to a person or not. Depending on whether they are or not, a sich can be replaced by another reflexive pronoun. Compare:

Es ist nicht so einfach, sich so etwas vorzustellen.
Es ist für mich nicht einfach, mir so etwas vorzustellen.
Es ist für Juliane nicht einfach, sich so etwas vorzustellen.

Only in the first sentence is sich truly impersonal. The others relate mir and sich to the person in the first part of themselves. In the line from the Spiegel, everybody and nobody are coming closer to the truth, so no particular person is meant, hence impersonal.


"Sich" is a reflexive.

Reflexive verbs use the reflexive pronouns with the meaning “oneself” ("sich selbst").

For example:

Ich dusche mich.

But if we have also an accusative object then we have to use the reflexive pronoun in the dative.

For example:

Ich putze mir die Zähne

  • 1
    I don't know why this was downvoted. "annähern" IS a reflexive verb, cf. duden.de/rechtschreibung/annaehern. This is ungrammatical: "Der Ermittler nähert der Wahrheit an." - correct: "Der Ermittler nähert SICH der Wahrheit an."
    – Tilo
    Apr 15, 2015 at 22:18
  • Yes, of course sich is reflexive in the example, but the question was whether it is impersonal. I am not sure if this is normal grammar terminology, but I understand 'impersonal' in this context to mean that sich doesn't actually refer to anyone - just like sich in the infinitive sich annähern, and unlike sich in er nähert sich an.
    – user2183
    Apr 16, 2015 at 22:46

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