When you say "look at it" in German, why do people use the expression "Sieh es dir an"? What is the grammar logic of using "dir" here?

  • 4
    Edited the ihn to es, which would be the context-free translation of it. It looks like you want to focus on the usage of dir, so it's better to avoid confusion about other parts of the sentence.
    – Annatar
    Nov 19, 2018 at 13:01
  • Relaxed: german.stackexchange.com/questions/11984/…
    – Carsten S
    Nov 20, 2018 at 6:28

3 Answers 3


There is a slight difference between etwas ansehen and sich etwas ansehen. The difference is that the reflexive version (sich etwas ansehen) is used to emphasize on the activeness of the looking. There is looking, and there is looking with attention and care.

To make an example: "Are you looking at the picture?"

Siehst du das Bild an?
Siehst du dir das Bild an?

The first question asks if you are facing the picture, or more accurately whether your eyeballs are directed at the picture. The second question asks if you are looking at it actively, with care. (you cannot enjoy art before you inspect it. I have seen the Mona Lisa before, but I havent really looked at it yet.)

  • 2
    Or: »I have looked at the Mona Lisa, but I haven't really seen it.«? The emphasis adds so much meaning in your example that I'm not sure it wouldn't work either way.
    – Philipp
    Nov 19, 2018 at 13:32
  • 7
    You might look at (ansehen) a wall of firebrick because it's the only thing tight in front of your hotel window, but you'll probably never watch or study (sich ansehen) it. The key difference is the intent to learn something about the object. Nov 19, 2018 at 14:20
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    @Philipp in German, that sentence doesn't work either way, as the difference between the two meanings really isn't that big, and it would sound really strange saying "Ich habe die Mona Lisa angesehen aber ich habe sie mir noch nie angesehen". It just.. doesn't work
    – kscherrer
    Nov 19, 2018 at 15:37
  • 3
    I believe a similar effect could be created by adding the word wirklich. But it depends on the context, maybe more than in the English sentence, I'll give you that.
    – Philipp
    Nov 19, 2018 at 18:14

The logic (actually, the grammar) is that the infinite form of the verb is sich etw. ansehen, which is a reflexive verb and dir is the conjugated form (2nd person singular) in dative case of the reflexive pronoun sich. sich etw. ansehen is a so-called "proper reflexive verb" ("echtes reflexives Verb") here and it is demanding dative case for the reflexive pronoun, because the verb itself is demanding an object in accusative case already ("Wen/Was sehe ich mir an?" - "Es").


Schalgend wird der Beitrag des reflexiven Partikels bei "Ich sehe mir Deinen Bandscheibenvorfall an" vs. "Ich sehe Dir Deinen Bandscheibenvorfall an".

The contribution of the reflexive particle in "I look at your herniated disc" vs. "By looking at you, I see your herniated disc" becomes sonic.

Bei "sieh es an" vs. "sieh es Dir an" könnte das erste auch eine Aufforderung sein, nur in die Richtung zu schauen, ohne auch den Geist darauf zu lenken, etwa ein Modell beim Fotografieren, welches ein Objekt anschaut.

  • I guess, adding the information that jemandem etwas ansehen has the meaning: to recognize something in looking at somebody would make this post less confusing for non-germans. Nov 20, 2018 at 22:59

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