How to know if a reflexive verb implies a dative or a accusative case for its reflexive pronoun? I know some prepositions always make the sentence's case dative such as zuliebe, mit, nach, etc; and some others make it dative only under static conditions, but what about those statements that have neither such prepositions nor situations involving motion/ being static?! I would say the answer is: based on context of the sentence and verb for example, as in here mentioned getting indirect object as a clue and exception for fragen in order to distinguish dative from accusative; But still what about those reflexive idioms, how to distinguish dative case from their context such as:

Du machst dir viele Sorgen!


Ihr macht euch keine Gedanken.


Sie machen Ihnen keine Vorstellung!

The only solution is to just memorize them and get used to them in Thinking in German way ? Is there any clue?

  • You realised all your examples use reflexive verbs? The point in your question is not the dative, but rather the reflexivity of the verb. That is built into the verb and needs to be memorised together with it.
    – tofro
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:33
  • @Armin: I am afraid you are mixing things here. It is quite hard to understand your question, can you try to be more precise what your problem is, try to shorten your headline. All your examples are in Akkusativ. What you probably think of Dativ are reflexive pronouns which are always in 3. person: dir, euch, Ihnen.
    – Thomas
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:38
  • @tofro: Sorry, hatte deinen Kommentar zu spät gesehen, deswegen die Überlappung.
    – Thomas
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:42
  • @tofro ! So, do you mean only because of being reflexive and reflecting back to noun like in "sich Sorgen machen", here the verb "machen" makes it dative?
    – Armin
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:45
  • reflexive verbs are specific in that subject and object are the same thing. "Ich mache mir Sorgen" has the same person - me - both as subject and object (a personal pronoun), once in nominative, once in dative. machen alone doesn't ask for the dative in "mir" - You need to memorise the idiom "sich Sorgen machen"
    – tofro
    Jan 1, 2017 at 14:48

3 Answers 3


After having some discussion about reflexive verbs in German language I searched the internet and found the following site:



In German language you can speak about "real" and "unreal" reflexive verbs:

"real" reflexive verbs are such verbs that can only be reflexive. Obviously they are always constructed with the accusative:

sich auskennen => ich kenne mich aus

The site names verbs which are commonly used in a "reflexive" form but which can be used non-reflexive "unreal reflexive verbs". In this case you look up the non-reflexive form of the verb in the dictionary to check if you have to use the dative or the accusative. Examples:

Non-reflexive form: jemandem gefallen (dative)

=> Ich gefalle mir.

Non-reflexive form: jemanden mögen (accusative)

=> Ich mag mich.

... but:

Unfortunately some of these words (like "sich duschen") are so uncommon in non-reflexive form that the dictionary only lists you won't find this form in most dictionaries.

In such cases the rule that will work in 99% of all cases is quite simple:

If a verb has another accusative object you use the dative:

sich etwas gönnen => Ich gönne mir heute ein Eis.

(Because "ein Eis" is accusative you must use the dative form "mir" - normally sentences do not have more than one accusative.)

In other cases you use the accusative:

sich duschen => Ich dusche mich.

(Because "mich" is the only accusative here you don't use the dative - there are only very few verbs using a dative without an accusative.)

To make it a bit more complicated:

The link "Thomas" posted lists some "real" reflexive verbs with dative. Examples:

sich etwas denken

sich Mühe geben

In these cases you might see the word "Mühe" for example as accusative object instead of a part of a fixed expression. Then the rule "only one accusative" is used.

  • I think this is useful also: mein-deutschbuch.de/reflexive-verben.html
    – Thomas
    Jan 1, 2017 at 17:24
  • @Thomas This website nearly says the same I say. However when I strictly use the rule on that website I would have to say: "Ich gefalle mich selbst" instead of "Ich gefalle mir selbst". For this reason checking if there is a non-reflexive form is needed. Jan 1, 2017 at 17:30
  • dear @MartinRosenau your efforts and researches are really appreciated. Could you come online and clarify more? For example, what you mean exactly by "In these cases you use the same form (accusative/dative) you would use when using the verb in non-reflexive form." and "I would use the form that will result in exactly one adjective in the sentence" ( do you mean an object here?)
    – Armin
    Jan 1, 2017 at 18:15
  • @Armin I editet my answer. I hope it is a bit clearer now... Jan 1, 2017 at 21:07

In the following I will call the direct object just ›object‹ and the indirect object ›adverbial phrase‹.

What you should know about verbs first is whether they're transitive, i.e. they can or must carry an object with them, or if they're intransitive.

When a verb is transitive, it can additionally have a dative clause, as you probably know:

Ichsubject | schreibeverb | dirdative | einen Brief object.

--› schreiben, trans. (+dat.)

Every time you find out a verb is transitive, the object part of the sentence is already filled (Ich schreibe einen Brief), so if you want to add something new you have to fill another clause: the adverbial phrase. It can be filled with a

– prepositional clause (Ich verschwende keinen Gedanken an dich), a

– dative clause (Ich schenke meinem Freund ein Andenken) or a

– genitive clause (Ich bezichtige den Angeklagten des Mordes).

This means that when you find an object and a reflexive pronoun in your sentence, the pronoun must be a dative:

Ichsubject | macheverb | mirdative | viele Sorgenobject.

Ersubject | machtverb | sichdative | viele Sorgenobject.

--› machen, trans. (+dat.reflx.)

If you don't see any objects, you can assume that the pronoun is an accusative object clause itself. Now we've got the object clause filled again (this time with a reflexive pronoun), so if we want to add something, we're gonna use an adverbial phrase:

Ichsubject | fürchteverb | michobject | vor der Dunkelheitprep.clause.

Ersubject | fürchtetverb | sichobject | vor der Dunkelheitprep.clause.

--› fürchten, trans.reflx. (+vor)


– We know that ›machen‹ is a transitive verb and we can identify an non-pronoun object in the sentence (viele Sorgen): therefore the reflexive pronoun has to be a dative clause.

– We know that ›fürchten‹ is a transitive verb but can't find any non-pronoun object: therefore the reflexive pronoun is the object itself.

I hope I haven't missed the point completely and it does help you a bit.


The only solution is to just memorize them and get used to them in Thinking in German way? Is there any clue?

From my point of view you can not expect an easy rule for German language in general. However there might be some rules to follow easily but most of them are rather complex.

The main problem is the human brain is not working like a computer. If you you want to speak fluently in any language you have to learn by memorization. Your brain is not a logical machine which combines rules and build a sentence in correct grammar by this. You speak a language because you learn it by heart and you have to practice it. It is simple and hard like this.

If you are a scientist you can analyze the language and their rules of course. It is nice to know the backgrounds but it does not help your brain to speak and understand fluently.

  • 2
    No, this is incorrect. The brain — or more precisely, the language centre — actually is a logic-based machine that uses well-formulated rules to construct sentences. The difficulty is that the intrinsic rules vary by language in a non-predictable way and that the logic part of langauge speaking is way below the conscious level.
    – Jan
    Jan 1, 2017 at 20:33
  • 1
    @Jan: Can you let me know of a proof of your statement please, when not you might have an other opinion but you are not allowed to call my statement incorrect. We still know very few things of how the brain works, no child learns language by rules. There might be rules/connection built in the brain, but I am pretty sure it does not follow the rules how we understand it.
    – Thomas
    Jan 1, 2017 at 21:24
  • We don't know anything about the parts of our brain we call the language centre and how they work. However, we know how the output looks like. It tells us that every single one of the 100 million German speakers which aren't children in the learning process speak by the same rules. Does any child learn a language by memorization? Their language centre is evolving –– you can watch that process happening without ever telling the child one simple grammar rule. Jan 2, 2017 at 18:06

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