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Is there any difference between "etwas üben" and "sich in etwas üben" ? Example:

  • die Kalligraphie üben
  • sich in der Kalligraphie üben
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Their meaning isn't different. However, their grammatical properties and the register they belong to differ:

etw. üben

  • transitive
  • the usual and plain way to say to practise sth.

sich in etw. üben

  • reflexive
  • elevated style
  • often used in particular phrases, most importantly sich in Geduld üben
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    sich in etwas Üben does not really work with instruments - does it? "Ich muss mich in Gitarre üben". That sounds wrong to me. "Ich muss mich im Gitarrenspiel üben" would work though. – infinitezero Jul 3 at 3:29
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    You can "üben" both an instrument/sport/style in general and a specific piece in particular. But you can only "sich üben in" an activity in general, not in a specific work. No one goes to conservatory just to study the Moonlight Sonata, it'll always be piano playing generally. – Kilian Foth Jul 3 at 6:39
  • Sich üben is, I think, a bit closer to English to practise (and actually, praktizieren), which also kind of expresses a combination of "training in something" and "executing it" -- what "he practised Judo" and er übte sich in der Kalligraphie both do. – phipsgabler Jul 3 at 7:21
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Yes, there is a difference. However, it is subtle and they are mostly interchangeable.

"Etwas üben" refers to one specific skill or action while "Sich in etwas üben" can include an array of different skills within one domain. "Kalligrafie" is a weird example since it is an activity (to write purposely in a certain way) and a broader topic at the same time and it is rare and most people don't have a nuanced understanding of it. A better example would be sports.

Let's say you play Basketball. If your coach says you need to improve your aim, you can say "heute übe ich Zielen". The next day he says that you should improve on your dribble. "Heute übe ich dribbeln". In both cases, you can say "Ich übe mich in Basketball".

On the other hand, playing Basketball is a skill too, and aiming includes an array of different subskills. As I said, they are mostly interchangeable but "Sich in etwas üben" has a more general connotation at least in standard German. Dialects may use them differently.

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