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The textbook I am studying has the following rules:

Echte reflexive Verben. Diese Verben stehen immer mit Reflexivpronomen. Man kann es nicht durch ein anderes Objekt ersetzen. Nach anderen Akkusativobjekten kann man mit wen? fragen, nicht nach dem Reflexivpronomen dieser Gruppe.

Ich bedanke mich bei meinem Vater. Beeil(e) dich, bitte!

Reflexiv verwendete Verben. Diese Verben brauchen ein Akkusativobjekt. Das kann ein Reflexivpronomen sein. Nach dem Reflexivpronomen kann man mit wen? fragen

Ich langweile mich. Beruhige dich, bitte!

I do not understand the reference to using wen? to identify the reflexive pronoun, in both examples the pronouns are "mich" and "dich", so what is the difference?

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    The problem of reasoning with questions is, that non-native speakers don't know when such a question can be asked. Wen beeilst du? is wrong, but how would anybody know that a priori? – infinitezero Nov 20 '20 at 23:10
  • Yeah, this is flakey IMHO. You can really only use subsitution or deletion tests, or try to put it into passive, but for all of that you already have to know how the word works. – phipsgabler Nov 21 '20 at 8:48
  • It helps native speakers to tell whether a verb is truly reflexive. But it doesn't help people who are learning German. – RHa Nov 21 '20 at 9:59
  • @infinitezero: In principal, you're surely right, but even non native speakers collect language experience over time and might have a pretty accurate feeling, whether they heard/read a certain kind of question before. – user unknown Nov 21 '20 at 10:21
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What is called "reflexiv verwendete Verben" here are verbs that are normally transitive with an accusative object:

Anna langweilt den Barkeeper.
Ich beruhige den Hund.

With these verbs, using them reflexively is just a special case of their transitive usage. "Mich/dich/sich" is in that case really just the accusative of "ich/du/er/sie/es [selbst]".

Anna langweilt sich.
Ich beruhige mich.

"Real reflexive verbs", in contrast, only work with reflexive pronouns. There is no meaningful way to replace the reflexive pronoun by an accusative object.

That's all there is to it.

So what do we have to do to discern a "real reflexive verb" from a "fake" one? We have to check whether the reflexive pronoun (sich, mich, dich ...) can be replaced by a different accusative object. If it's "real", it can't.

If we know the verb well enough, for example as a native speaker or with a good understanding of German verbs, we can do that by using the "wen" recipe: We replace the preflexive pronoun by "wen", and then we check if we get a question that makes sense.

Anna langweilt sich. => Anna langweilt wen? => Question makes sense, she could e.g. den Barkeeper langweilen.
Ich beruhige mich. => Ich beruhige wen? => Question makes sense i could e.g. den Hund beruhigen.
Ich beeile mich. => Ich beeile wen? => Question makes no sense, one can only "sich beeilen".

In summary, if you know the word well, you can use the "wen" test to check if the verb is a "echtes reflexives Verb".

What could you do with this hard-earned knowledge? You could tell someone who doesn't know the verb as well as you that it is indeed an "echtes reflexives Verb", and they would know to never use it with an accusative object. It's terrific.

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Such questions are helpful only for people who already have a pretty good understanding of the language. If you are a native speaker or if you speak the language already at a very high level, then such questions can help you to distinguish between real reflexive verbs (which btw. do not exist in English) and transitive verbs that are used in a reflexive manner (which is possible in english too: "I wash myself").

For someone who is learning the language, and for whom the concept of verbs that only can be used reflexive (but not transitive), such questions simply are not helpful. They just add another information that needs to be learned.

A similar problem arises when native speakers explain the difference between the grammatical cases like »Wenn du danach mit "wessen?" fragen kannst, ist es Genitiv." This statement is true, but not helpful.

So, I guess, this textbook was made for German native speakers, not for people who learn German as a foreign language. For native speakers, these questions are helpful, but they are not for learners of German as a foreign language.

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  • I've seen grammars where they call the four cases wer, wen, wem, wessen. If you think about it, that's really no worse than the Latin derived names that people would normally use, since they're just jargon as well. You could use any names, "Moe, Larry, Curly, and Shemp" for example, but for some reason the world has settled on the Latin ones and it's better to use the jargon that's settled on rather than try to reinvent it. – RDBury Nov 21 '20 at 13:35
  • @Hubert Schölnast "So, I guess, this textbook was made for German native speakers, not for people who learn German as a foreign language." The textbook is the Pons "Praxis-Grammatik. Deutsch als Fremdsprache"! Niveaux A1-C1. – Steve Nov 21 '20 at 16:53
  • @RDBury: Your order is interesting. In most German textbooks, the cases have numbers: 1. Fall = Nominativ, 2. Fall = Genitiv, 3. Fall = Dativ, 4. Fall = Akkusativ – Hubert Schölnast Nov 21 '20 at 17:09
  • @Hubert Schölnast -- NADG is the order they taught them in Duolingo and I think it's in order of frequency. I know the standard order in declension tables, for example here is NGDA. But I figure it you're learning grammar from tables then you're doing it wrong. – RDBury Nov 22 '20 at 0:35
  • @RDBury Every German native speaker did learn the order NGDA in school. See also de.wikipedia.org/wiki/… or grammatikdeutsch.de/html/falle-info.html or wortwuchs.net/grammatik/kasus or deutsche-grammatik.net/grammatik/die-vier-fälle or grundschulkoenig.de/die-4-faelle or sprachschule-aktiv-wien.at/die-4-faelle-im-deutschen or any other resource I found. The terms »2. Fall« and »Gentiv« are synonyms, same for »3. Fall« = Dativ and »4. Fall« = Akkusativ. – Hubert Schölnast Nov 22 '20 at 6:41

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