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Thus far I have seen the following translations of this phrase:

to do with yourself

Chrome translations of this phrase as found somewhat intermittently in various German newspapers

  1. (reflexive) to do (to fare or perform (well or poorly))
  2. (reflexive) to look (to have an appearance of being) Der Mantel macht sich sehr schön. ― The coat looks very nice.
  3. (reflexive dative, colloquial) to get cracking (an (“on,” “with”)), get a move on (it), to get down (an (“to”)) (something); (in imperative:) come on, let's go

Reflexive definitions listed for "machen" at Wiktionary

to get on

One of several definitions listed for Tureng's entry for "sich machen," but this is the very first one listed.

to improve
to take care of yourself
to make something of yourself

WordReference.com

to be arranged

Reverso, using a German to English translation

hacerse

Reverso, using a German to Spanish translation. The Spanish to English translation of "hacerse" is "to be made."

I've seen this rather daunting list at dict.cc:

and I get what's happening there, but overall, the sources I've consulted with on this seem to be a bit all over the board on this. So, I still don't know what the phrase "sich machen" without any further contextual clues (as seen in the dict.cc list) means to most Germans. My guess is that in the most simplest of explanations it means "to do something with oneself."

In terms of my ability to use this phrase "sich machen," I think I could manage to cobble together sentences according to the translations dict.cc (and some others have provided), but outside of such specificity, my concern would be that something would get lost in translation and that I would do well to simply find another way to express such phrases as "to improve" or "to be arranged." What advice on this phrase would you give to students of German, especially those at the intermediate level or below?

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    It would be easier if you had a specific sentence that is unclear, as you made it very clear yourself, that "sich machen" is versatile.
    – mic
    Apr 16 '20 at 11:42
  • Ein Glück wird's der einen Person nie langweilig, ohne Kommentar ein Downvote zu geben... Apr 16 '20 at 11:44
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    'So, I still don't know what the phrase "sich machen" without any further contextual clues (as seen in the dict.cc list) means to most Germans.' Nothing.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 16 '20 at 11:51
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    @infinitezero Ich gebe, wenn ich ein unbegründetes -1 bei Fragen sehe, inzwischen immer ein Upvote, weil ich das unmöglich finde.
    – David Vogt
    Apr 16 '20 at 16:52
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As you've found out, it is very versatile when combined with adjectives or nouns.

A very idiomatic phrase that you didn't mention is

Sich zum Affen machen

To make a fool of oneself (literally a monkey)

But what about a lonely "sich machen".

I only know this in the context of improving or showing advancement / proceeding. For example if you're doing a puzzle and you can already recognize some parts of the puzzle you could say "Das Puzzle macht sich (so langsam)".

Other than that, it doesn't really have a meaning without an additional adjective or noun. For that we can not give an answer as it is way too broad.

It's unidiomatic in English (for most cases) but try to go with "to make oneself something".

sich frisch machen - to make oneself fresh (to refresh)
sich bekannt machen - to make oneself known/introduced (to introduce oneself)
sich sauber machen - to make oneself clean (to clean oneself)

You get the picture ...

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  • Though both your answer and the one David Vogt posted are quite good, I'm giving it to you because, well, I think I need to be at a higher level before I could truly appreciate David's answer. Plus, you have fewer reputation points, and as much as I've appreciated David's thoughtful, clear, and well researched answers, sometimes it's good to share the wealth of green check marks, so this time, it goes to you. Danke schön.
    – Lisa
    Apr 16 '20 at 22:29
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Yes, there will be a lot of idiomatic stuff you will have to learn. That is inevitable. Let's take a look at the unidiomatic part.

The basic use is as follows.

Ich mache den Tisch sauber. → Der Tisch ist sauber.

We have a subject that causes an object to reach a certain state. The state is expressed by a (resultative) predicative adjective, for instance sauber. This can of course be used reflexively.

Ich mache mich sauber. → Ich bin sauber.

This pattern should work for

Ich mache mich: fein/schick/hübsch, kundig, lächerlich, nützlich, klein …

The meaning can be a tad idiomatic with regards to the adjective: klein does not refer to size, but accomplishments (think English diminishing yourself); fein is well-dressed etc.

(English seems to prefer using specific verbs instead of a combination of general machen and an adjective, as the list of translations from dict.cc show.)


With regard to sich machen, seemingly without adjective.

Similar to some other verbs, leaving out the adjective results in a default meaning of good.

Das riecht aber! (gut)
Das schmeckt aber! (gut)
(but: Das riecht, schmeckt furchtbar.)

Er macht sich. ~ Er macht sich gut.
He is doing well.

Note that the meaning is drifting into the idiomatic; it's not that he is good, but that he is doing well. The adjective no longer denotes the result of an action, as it does in the unidiomatic cases.


The list includes some constructions that are completely different in that they have a dative and accusative object instead of an accusative object and a predicative complement. (This is unfortunately obscured by the convention of using sich to indicate reflexivity – sich is both accusative and dative.*)

Er macht ihr Kummer, Sorgen.
He worries her.

The pattern, on first glance, looks similar to

Er macht ihr Suppe.
He makes (cooks) soup for her.

The person denoted by the dative object receives the thing denoted by the accusative object through the action of the subject. So make he makes worries for her would be a literal translation of the sentence mentioned before.

*This might also be the reason for the horrible error under 22., where Wiktionary claims a dative is used. It's an accusative: Ich mache mich auf (den Weg), an die Arbeit.

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Without context this is guessing, but if you mean "er macht sich" as a whole sentence, then is is a coloquial probably regional expression that means "he is prooving himself" or "he is showing a good developement"

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"sich ... machen" fits most with "to turn (things) to ... (for himself)"

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