I am reading a John Grisham book in German and am struggling to translate one sentence into English. The sentence reads:

"Roy Lester brachte ihm Kaffee, und Pete bedankte sich."

I understand what is meant here (I think), that Roy brought Pete coffee and Pete expressed his thanks. But I would have written that:

"Roy Lester brachte ihm Kaffee, und Pete dankte ihm."

Meaning that Roy brought Pete coffee and Pete thanked him.

I believe the "bedanken sich" expression is better, or more eloquent, but I cannot think of a way of expressing this in English. My dictionaries just give the translation as to thank someone for something, but in what way is that different to using "danken"?

  • 1
    Per Wiktionary bedanken is a reflexive verb, meaning it requires a reflexive pronoun (sich) in order to function. German has a number of reflexive verbs and there's no easy way of guessing when a verb is reflexive, or for which meanings a verb is reflexive, you just have to memorize this fact when you learn the verb. There are other types of verbs with "unusual valence" as well: dative verbs, genative verbs, copulative verbs. Find a good grammar and look them up, or keep checking here because they pop up regularly.
    – RDBury
    Nov 12, 2020 at 14:31
  • 1
    "sich bei jemanden für etwas bedanken" and "jemanden für etwas danken" are synonym. Neither of these is "better, or more eloquent". Why do you believe that?
    – user6495
    Nov 12, 2020 at 14:38
  • But thay are not the sentences I referred to which were "Roy Lester brachte ihm Kaffee, und Pete bedankte sich." and "Roy Lester brachte ihm Kaffee, und Pete dankte ihm" Are you saying that these sentences are synonymous?
    – Steve
    Nov 12, 2020 at 15:10
  • 4
    @Roland -- with bei, bedanken is synonymous with danken, but it's much less direct. "I am grateful to you" vs. "I thank you". Without the bei you can leave out the person being thanked: Ich bedanke mich -- "I'm grateful".
    – RDBury
    Nov 12, 2020 at 15:28
  • 1
    Yes, the answer below has more details. Btw, I updated the Wiktionary entry to make the difference a bit clearer. If you want to get into the jargon, danken is a transitive verb so it needs an object (actually a dative object which make it a "dative verb"). Meanwhile sich bedanken is an intransitive verb which needs a preposition if you want to use it with an object.
    – RDBury
    Nov 12, 2020 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


"sich bei jemandem bedanken" and "jemandem danken" are semantically synonymous, but there's a slight difference in use.

"Pete bedankte sich bei Roy" gives slightly more attention to the thanking person (Pete) and the thanking itself, while "Pete dankte Roy" gives a bit more attention to the thanked person (Roy). The difference is small though.

The most typical uses of "sich bedanken" are the ones where the "bei" part isn't even needed:

Mutter zum Kind: "Hast du dich bedankt?"
Der Moderator bedankte sich für die konstruktive Diskussion.
Der Moderator bedankte sich bei den Teilnehmern für konstruktive Diskussion.
Ich möchte mich bei Ihnen allen sehr herzlich bedanken.
Der Laudator übergab den Preis an die Oskar-Gewinnerin, die sich bedankte.

Typical uses of "jemandem danken":

In seiner Rede dankte der CEO dem Vorstand für seine Unterstützung und den Kunden für ihre Treue.

(The main point here is whom he thanks)

Ich danke Ihnen herzlich für Ihren Einsatz.

(The speaker is putting polite emphasis on the other person)

I'm not sure if there is an equivalent for "sich bedanken" in English. "To give thanks" seems to be used exclusively in religious contexts, "to be grateful" is more of a mode than an action.

"To say thanks" seems to be the best candidate to me, at least for some uses, although I'm not entirely confident about my knowledge on how that is used.

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