I know "überlegen" means to ponder, to think about, to consider etc. And I definitely know that the following sentence is in imperative mood. But what's the definition when a policeman says:

Überlegen Sie zuerst!

For example, among these safety recommendations (Ratschlägen):

  1. Überlegen Sie zuerst!
  2. Öffnen Sie die Wohnungstür nicht!
  3. Unterschreiben Sie nichts!
  4. Informieren Sie die Polizei!

Sie in here must be the object of the sentence in accusative case because I didn't find the verb überlegen as a reflexive verb in Duden dictionary. So it's not a subject and therefore we can't interpret it as to think about, to ponder. Any guide is appreciated.

  • 1
    Sie is not an object; it is in fact the subject. Only in those imperatives where the subject is in (grammatical) second person can it be left out. Thus, it is ‘Überlege zuerst!’, but ‘Überlegen Sie zuerst!’ For comparison: an object in an imperative clause would have to be sich, e.g: ‘Machen Sie sich nichts vor!’
    – Jan
    Jan 4, 2017 at 23:50

3 Answers 3


The literal translation would be:

Think at first

An easier way to put this into perspective is to add a second part to the sentence.

Denken Sie zuerst, ehe Sie handeln!

Which easily translates to:

Think! - Before you act.

However the "zuerst" means at the very beginning vs. somewhere before acting.


To me that looks like the imperative, especially since it's paired with the exclamation point. "Überlegen" can also be thought of as a synonym of "denken". But in most cases the imperative in German a) takes an object and b) changes its conjugation based on who you address.

"Think first!"

when translated to German could become:

"Überlege (du) zuerst!" (addressing an individual )

"Überlegt (Ihr) zuerst!" (addressing a group informally)

"Überlegen Sie zuerst!" (addressing an individual or group formally)

  • dear @tink! of course it's an imperative clause when a police tells you to do something even without considering context, the point is what does it exactly mean? So, let me edit the question to clarify it more.
    – Armin
    Jan 4, 2017 at 7:14
  • Dear @Armin, that makes no difference to the rest of what I said. It still means Think first!
    – tink
    Jan 4, 2017 at 7:23

This is the non-informal version of the imperative. This distinction correponds to the pronouns 'du' and 'Sie'.

Bist du Freund oder Feind? Antworte mir!

Sind Sie Freund oder Feind? Antworten Sie mir!

The formal version borrows the surface form of the Gesamtfrage, but it's really an imperative by all measures.

(The fact that your example is missing a semi-obligatory direct object is completely unrelated.)

  • 1
    To me, this is the answer that best explains the function of Sie in the sentence.
    – Carsten S
    Jan 4, 2017 at 13:06

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