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I was reading a sentence a friend said:

David, ich kenne dich, sei bitte pünktlich.

Now, I know kennen is to know someone i.e. to be familiar with someone, but why do we use the pronoun "dich" rather than "du" i.e.

David, ich kenne du, sei bitte pünktlich.

I thought kennen wasn't reflexive.

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You are right, that kennen is not necessarily reflexive (though it can be reflexive).

But dich is not a reflexive pronoun here, as you seem to believe. dich ist a personal pronoun in the accusative case (Akkusativ). And this is correct, since jemanden/etwas kennen takes an accusative object.

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In English, the direct object form of "you" is still "you". In many other languages, including German, it isn't.

So for the same reason you don't say

I know he

but

I know him

You say

Ich kenne dich

Ich kenne ihn (and not: Ich kenne er)


I guess I'll get some flak for calling Akkusativ (which "dich" is) the direct object, but that is what it is, here and originally (and not just in German).

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    I understand the point of view calling dich the direct object here. Just be aware that direct objects can also be Dativ or Genitiv in german, not just Akkusativ. And here "direct object" might be a bit misleading as an explanation. – jonathan.scholbach Jan 18 at 10:41
  • Originally, the accusative case is the direct object, not just in German, but even in ancient Greek, Latin, in Russian, etc. That historically, some other constructs appeared where what turned out to be the direct object got another case (e.g. verbs like helfen, gedenken -- and also in other languages) doesn't change that. Language and grammar are not always logical, especially in the past. – Rudy Velthuis Jan 18 at 14:18
  • FWIW, in the English sentence "I know you.", "you" is the direct object. In "Ich kenne dich", "dich" is the direct object too (or, as I was taught in Dutch: lijdend voorwerp). – Rudy Velthuis Jan 18 at 14:24
  • @DavidVoigt: was that a serious question? – Rudy Velthuis Jan 18 at 17:26
  • @DavidVogt A direct object is an object which does not need a preposition. – jonathan.scholbach Jan 18 at 18:55
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In your example the inner clause is a full sentence that could stand alone as a complete sentence:

Ich kenne dich.
I know you.

You also can say, that you know yourself:

I know I.

Or, lets say, you know someone else, a male person:

I know he.

What do you think: Are these English sentences right or wrong? Due to your own argumentation they should be right. But they are not. In fact you say in English:

I know me.
I know him.

Also

I know she her.
I know we us.
I know they them.


English has almost completely lost the system of grammatical cases that the common ancestor of English and German (and some other languages) had, which is Proto-Germanic, or even before that: Proto-Indo-European.

In English grammatical cases survived only in personal pronouns, and there are only three cases left:

  • nominative case

    I walk. He walks. We walk.

  • genitive case

    This is my house. This is his house. This is our house.

  • oblique case

    The house belongs to me. The house belongs to him. The house belongs to us.

    They watch me. They watch him. They watch us.

In case of 2nd person (you) nominative and oblique case by chance are identical:

  • nominative case

    You walk.

  • oblique case

    The house belongs to you. They watch you.

The old system of previous eight grammatical cases in Proto-Indo-European also did not fully survive in German, but it is much more alive in German than in English. In German we use it not just only for pronouns, but also for nouns, and we have 4 cases, where the English oblique case matches with two different German cases, which are dative and accusative case:

  • nominative case

    Ich gehe. Du gehst.

  • genitive case

    Das ist mein Haus. Das ist dein Haus.

  • dative case

    Das Haus gehört mir. Das Haus gehört dir.

  • accusative case

    Sie beobachten mich. Sie beobachten dich.

So, when you compare the English sentence with the German sentence, you will notice, that in "I know you" the word you is in oblique case. And in this very simple example you can do a simple word-by-word translation, because the grammatical structure (subject, predicate, object) is the same in both languages. (You normally can't do such a simple word-by-word translation, but here, in this example, it works.) But then in the German sentence the object that was in oblique case in English now has to be either dative or accusative case.

To decide which of both you have to take, you have to look at the verb. Look at this question for more details: How to know Nominative, Accusative, Dative, Genitive Verbs in German?

For the verb kennen the object must be in accusative case. So it has to be

Ich kenne dich.

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