[CW: Kinda technical question]

I was researching object-experiencer verbs across languages (i.e., verbs like bore, worry, etc., in which the nominative subject causes an emotional state in the accusative object) and I found this interesting reference concerning German sentence pairs of the Es juckt mich ~ Ich jucke mich variety.

Are there any other object-experiencer verbs which show similar changes in meaning when both subject and object are 1st/2nd person? What is it that changes?

I'm particularly interested in how the tense interpretation of an otherwise present tense verb changes according to whether subject and object have the same (or different) person specification. For example, (1) in Spanish expresses a timeless psychological state of disposition, namely, that I find Juan boring, and it is not specifically tied to any context of utterance. (2), however, is absolutely tied to the context of utterance: it expresses the fact that I am getting bored at the very moment in which I speak.

(1) Juan me aburre (lit. 'Juan bores me')

(2) Yo me aburro (lit. 'I bore me')

Does anything remotely like this happen with some object-experiencer verbs in German?

  • 8
    "Ich jucke mich" is not German. The nearest idiomatic active sentence would be "Ich kratze mich". Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 6:38
  • The bored example works in German, too. "Juan langweilt mich" means that I find the person boring, and "Ich langweile mich" means that I'm bored in general.
    – miep
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 7:06
  • 3
    @KilianFoth dwds.de/wb/jucken 2.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 7:15
  • Reminds me of a classic photo, although there a dative construction is used. Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 8:06
  • 2
    @DavidVogt Hm, that's probably quite regional then, I never heard of that sense. Does "es kratzt mich" work in standard? Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 8:13

2 Answers 2


Collision of transitive and reflexive use

I think your example of "jucken" goes back to different meanings when the verb is used transitively ("Der Verband juckt mich" - lit.: "The bandage itches me") or reflexively ("Ich jucke mich" - according to Duden 2.a), "sich jucken" can mean in colloquial use "sich an einer juckenden Körperstelle kratzen, reiben o. Ä., um dem Juckreiz entgegenzuwirken" = "scratch oneself because one is itching")

"Es juckt mich" uses the transitive meaning - "It / Something itches (me)". In "Ich jucke mich", the "mich" is seen as reflexive rather than the object for transitive use. So (if you are part of those German speakers that make use of this colloquialism) it is understood that you are not itching yourself but scratching yourself.


"bore" = "langweilen" is an edge case, in my opinion. The reflexive use "sich langweilen" means "being bored", while the transitive use "jmd. langweilen" means "bore someone". Since "bore oneself" actually means that one is getting bored of oneself, it can be argued that "being bored" is not quite the same.


"worry" is such a collision in English, I think.

"worry someone" ("cause someone concern") can can be translated as "jmd. Sorgen machen". "worry oneself" as in "being concerned about oneself" is still transitive use, and translates as "(über) sich (selbst) Sorgen machen". "worry oneself (sick / to death) (about sth / sb)" (reflexive meaning: "agitating oneself") on the other hand must be translated as "sich (um etwas / jmd) absorgen".

(1) It worries me. Es macht mir Sorgen. - transitive use

(2) John worries me. John macht mir Sorgen. - transitive use

(3) I worry. Ich mache mir Sorgen. / Ich bin beunruhigt. - intransitive use of 'worry'

(4) Sometimes, I worry myself. Manchmal mache ich mir Sorgen über mich selbst. - transitive use, object 'myself'.

(5) I worry myself sick about him. Ich sorge mich ab um ihn. / Ich mache mich krank vor Sorge um ihn. - reflexive use

Collision of two different meanings of 1 verb


"jmd. anziehen" can be translated as both "attract sb." and "dress sb.".

(1) Es zieht mich an. - Since it doesn't make a lot of sense that something (most commonly understood as an object / idea) dresses me, the sentence translates as "It attracts me" (unless given more context).

(2) John zieht mich an. - transitive. Here, it can mean both. Depends utterly on context.

(3) Ich ziehe mich an. - Since attracting oneself is quite uncommon, the sentence is understood to mean "I dress / am dressing myself".


"Ich jucke mich" is not part of standard German!

The German verb jucken translates to to itch in English, and it means to cause an irritation on your skin, which causes the need to scratch.

Clothes made from harsh fabrics can jucken. An insect sting can jucken. And the tiny weals that you get when touched stinging-nettles or a jellyfish can jucken too. And of coarse itching powder can jucken. But a person can not jucken. Even if I apply itching powder on my own skin, it's not me who is itching, it is the itching powder that itches. So the sentence

Ich jucke mich.

might be correct on a grammatical level, but semantic this sentence has no meaning. It is as meaningful as "I pour myself into the sea." or "I rain."

The word es in

Es juckt mich.

can refer to something that exists in the context (maybe you talked about itching powder in the sentence before), or it is an expletive subject. If it is an expletive subject then it works exactly like the word it in the sentence "It rains." It is something that you can use as a grammatical subject in a sentence that on the semantic layer has no actor. So you can use the sentence "Es juckt mich." if you just want to tell that there is something that causes this irritation, without naming this cause (maybe you don't know the cause):

Es juckt mich am ganzen Körper.
It itches all over my body.

You can use jucken also with a subject that is not the cause of itching, but the body part where you feel the irritation:

Mich juckt die Fußsohle.
The sole of my foot itches.

When the subject is a body part, then very often you put the reflexive pronoun on position 1 and the subject to the end of the sentence, like I did in the example.

You also can combine the expletive subject with a part of your body, but then the body part must be put into a prepositional object:

Es juckt mich an den Füßen.
My feet are itchy.

Note, that jucken, when used with a negation, also has a figurative meaning:

Das juckt mich nicht.
I don't care.

I just learned from some comments to the question, that there might exist some regions in Germany where "Ich jucke mich." also has the meaning "Ich kratze mich." = "I scratch myself." But this is colloquial speech practiced in some regions. This meaning is not part of standard German. I am a 55 years old native German speaker from Austria, and until today I never before have heard of this regional meaning, and I wouldn't have understood what you wanted to tell.

  • That's all right, but it doesn't answer the actual question about experiencer subjects and reflexive constructions. The jucken thing is just an unfortunately wrong example the OP found (and if we accept transitive jucken in non-standard lect, it's still a valid example of the syntax in question). Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 9:47
  • @äüö: I repeat: "Ich jucke mich" is not part of standard German! There is nothing to remove and nothing to edit. It is a phrase that is only used in some regions. It will not be understood in other regions, for example it will not be understood in Austria, and I guess the same is true for bavaria, and other regions. AND your link leads to a site where clearly is said, that this meaning is umgangssprachlich (colloquial), i.e. NOT part of standard German. Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 13:15
  • @äüö: Deine Sichtweise ist falsch. Umgangssprache ist KEIN Teil der Standardsprache, sondern ist eine andere Varietät. Die Standardsprache stellt einen überregionalen Standard dar, der an Schulen unterrichtet wird. Umgangssprache ist nicht überregional, nicht standardisiert und wird nicht unterrichtet. Siehe z.B. Was ist “Umgangssprache”? oder auch Wikipedia: Umgangssprache bzw. Wikipedia: Standardsprache Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 5:24
  • OK, hast recht. Ich habe meine Kommentare diesbezüglich wieder gelöscht, aber kann leider nicht mehr den Downvote rückgängig machen. Das erfordert eine Änderung der Antwort.
    – äüö
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 12:39

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