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I'm pretty new to German, and when I read and watched German content, I noticed that they sometimes use ich and mir in the same phrase. For example:

Ich war mir sicher, dass ich im Test die richtigen Antworten gab.

As I understand the sentence, in English I'd just say "I was sure,...".
I don't understand the function of mir.
Why is it there and what does it express?

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    you probably want to check reflexiv pronouns and verbs in German, dartmouth.edu/~german/Grammatik/Reflexives/Reflexive.html – zcqwevb Jul 28 '15 at 9:28
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    You probably want to check reflexivity in any language. Including English. – RegDwight Jul 28 '15 at 9:39
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    I asked myself why it isn't just "I asked." – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 11:48
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    It may be a super basic question but if it's not a dupe (which I think it is, but I don't have the counterpart) I see no reason to close it. – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 11:49
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    @chirlu... how so? I mean, what's the difference between "Ich bin sicher, dass" and "Ich bin mir sicher, dass" – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 12:52
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German often uses a self reference to make statements that affect the subject itself indirectly sound more personal.

Ich kaufe mir ein Buch.

Ich hole mir ein Bier.

Ich bin mir sicher, dass... .

Technically, leaving out the "mir" leaves open the bit of information about whom you're buying a book for, whom you're getting a beer. Having the "mir" there, leaves no doubt about this AND it's super idiomatic. But it's not mandatory, neither grammatically (has nothing to do with transitive or not) nor semantically (English can convey the same message without the self reference), nor as a fixed expression that you can't alter. If you want to read more about self references and how they're used in German you can check out this article on my blog.

  • First of all thanks for your answer, second I understood what you meant by leaving mir out you leave the sentence open for interpretation and more impersonal, but what I don't get is that the verb sein is not like kaufen as you can buy a beer for someone else but you can't be someone else, that's what confuses me. – user16705 Jul 28 '15 at 12:31
  • @user16705... well, you can be something for someone else "I am too fast for you". In German that would be "Ich bin DIR zu schnell", so the receiver idea of dative does go together with "sein/to be". The "sicher" example is not exactly the same because you cannot insert any other person than yourself, and you're not really "receiving" anything. Here, the mir really just makes it sound more personal. Maybe think of it as "I'm sure for myself" though it's not as strong and exclusive sounding as the ENglish version – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 13:17
  • Ok, now I get it. – user16705 Jul 28 '15 at 13:21
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What you encountered is the reflexive expression "sich sicher sein", so it would be

Ich bin mir sicher.

Du bist dir sicher.

Er/sie/es ist sich sicher.

Wir sind uns sicher.

Ihr seid euch sicher.

Sie sind sich sicher.

The reflexive pronouns mir, dir, etc. have English correspondences myself, yourself etc., but very often an expression is reflexive in German but not in English. You just have to know that, and a good dictionary will tell you, so watch out for the sich.

In this particular case, it is not necessary to use sich sicher sein, as sicher sein has the same meaning. The Duden gives this example:

ich bin [mir] sicher, dass er noch kommt

  • I wouldn't call it a "reflexive expression" because that makes it sound like it's a fixed thing. But here it isn't. We can leave out the mir and get a grammatical sentence with the same meaning, only that it sounds a tad less personal. As such the mir is the same as in "Ich kaufe mir ein Buch" Would you call that a "reflexive expression"? – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 11:53
  • @Emanuel. I wanted to stress that it is a property of the expression, not of the verb sein. That the non-reflexive construction is also grammatical is in my opinion not so important in this regard. "Ich kaufew mir ein Buch" is different, because "ich kaufe dir ein Buch" is also possible, but "ich bin dir sicher" is not. – Carsten S Jul 28 '15 at 12:00
  • "Ich bin mir sicher, dass er kommt", "Ich bin sicher, dass er kommt".. where the difference between these to you? – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 12:02
  • Also, if you check "Ich bin mir sicher, dass" and "Ich bin sicher, dass" on google phrase search you'll find that they are roughly equally common on the web (slight edge for the mir-version). Calling that an expression gives learners the wrong impression. – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 12:04
  • I did not claim a difference. The first sounds more natural to me, but that may be a regional thing. And since I am not well versed in grammar, expression may be the wrong term, maybe phrase is better. The thing is that sich sicher sein means to be sure. I do not claim that sicher sein does not mean the same thing. But it would be wrong to go looking for a special meaning of sich, it is just part of the phrase. – Carsten S Jul 28 '15 at 12:07
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The answer is indeed that it is an example of a reflexive verb, so mir here is somewhat like myself. Many German verbs are transitive (they require an object) and if there's no external object, then do it to yourself. ;)
Sometimes you can avoid these constructions and some people do. For example, in my opinion there seems to be a rise in saying "Ich erinnere das" ("I remember that") instead of "Ich erinnere mich an das" ("I remember that", but correctly).
(Sorry not a good answer, but I can't comment yet and wanted to say the next bit.)

In case of your example, you could one-up your game and get really existential by saying "Ich war mir meiner nicht sicher".

  • So mir is used as the object, and if the verb war wasn't transitive mir would be unnecessary? – user16705 Jul 28 '15 at 9:46
  • Thanks to @Em1 for editing my ramblings. To the OP: Have a look here german.stackexchange.com/questions/3817/… (your question is difficult to answer. Of course you would need different pronouns if you used different verbs) – Bort Jul 28 '15 at 9:57
  • It would've been a better idea to address @user16705 instead of me. He should be notified of your comment. – You're welcome all the same. ;) – Em1 Jul 28 '15 at 10:04
  • Transitive use of erinnern is not incorrect. – Carsten S Jul 28 '15 at 11:11
  • @user16705... "sein" is not transitive. The "mir" is 100% optional. German uses that a lot but English has remains of it in dialect (I watch myself a movie) – Emanuel Jul 28 '15 at 11:51

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