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I have come across the sentence

Sie waren sich eng verbunden.

where the word verbinden is used in combination with sich. The sentence describes a relation between two brothers.

I know the most common meaning of verbinden is to connect. What is the role of sich in this context, and how would dropping it change the sentence?

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These are the two most common versions of this phrase:

Sie waren eng verbunden.
They were closely connected.

Sie waren miteinander eng verbunden. = Sie waren eng miteinander verbunden.
They were closely connected with each other.

The version where miteinander is replaced by the reflexive pronoun sich is much rarer used, but it is used. (I found some books where this phrase appears.) But while miteinander is more often placed behind eng (both versions are ok) the word sich must stand before eng.

The meaning of »Sie waren sich eng verbunden.« is somewhere in between the meaning of the two sentences above, wich already mean almost the same.

So, it's just a stylistic variation. I wouldn't use it, because to me it sounds a little bit strange, but again: It's a matter of style which can be the subject of long but pointless discussions.

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In this sentence, sich is a dative reflexive pronoun.

One can tell it's dative because only dative makes sense in connection with verbunden sein: jemandem[Dat] verbunden sein.

Normally it would mean to him/herself. In this context, however, it means to each other. A less ambiguous word for each other is einander.

So the literal meaning is:

They were connected to each other.

where sich translates to to each other.

The actual meaning, however, is rather something along the lines of "They had a [close] relationship".

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    You could add that sich tends to replace the "proper" correlative pronoun einander, which would be prescriptively appropriate here. – phipsgabler Jan 16 at 12:28
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    I added a mention of einander. – RHa Jan 16 at 19:12
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This phrase means "They were close with each other"

Sich means "each other" in this case but also means "with himself/herself"

You can also say "einander" which is a bit more formal - "sie waren miteinander eng verbunden"

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sich in this phrase means "to each other":

Sie waren eng verbunden (without sich) means "they were closely connected", but not necessarily to each other. For example, each individual item could be closely connected to some other item: Die Blüten sind eng mit dem Stil verbunden. "The blossoms are closely connected to the stems." With sich the objects are closely connected to each other.

Thus, sie waren sich eng verbunden means "they were closely connected to each other" or, more freely, "they were fast friends".

The phrase sich verbunden sein is near obsolete today and only used by writers who attempt to emulate a "classical", Goethe era style. I believe the phrase is not understood by many native speakers of German today.

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