This sentence appears in today's DW Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten:

Die Lage des FC Augsburg im Abstiegskampf der Fußball-Bundesliga hat sich auch durch die Rückkehr des Trainers Markus Weinzierl nicht entschärft.

The translation I am given by Google is:

The situation of FC Augsburg in the relegation battle of the Bundesliga has not been defused by the return of coach Markus Weinzierl.

which appears to be a sentence with a passive construction. But the grammar I see does not correspond with any passive construction with which I am familiar. And I cannot find evidence that entschärfen can be used as a reflexive verb. So I try to use Google again to understand the grammar:

Es hat sich durch die Rückkehr nicht entschärft: The return did not defuse it.

Es hat durch die Rückkehr nicht entschärft: It hasn't defused by the return.

Google indicates the presence of sich makes it passive!?

Isn't the use of werden required here for a passive construction?

Es ist durch die Rückkehr nicht entschärft worden.

And why is the sich present in this sentence?

  • Even if, it would be "Es ist ...entschärft worden" May 9, 2021 at 5:06

1 Answer 1


First of all: hat sich entschärft is morphosyntactically an active and reflexive verb form. The reason is the following:

By default, etw. entschärfen is a transitive verb, so we have two arguments:

Die Rückkehr entschärft den Konflikt.
The return defuses/eases the conflict.

In those sentences, the one who defuses (agent) is the subject and the thing that is defused (patient) is the object.

Some transitive verbs, among them entschärfen, have another, intransitive form with only one argument: the patient, i.e. the former object. The patient then becomes the subject of the sentence:

Der Konflikt entschärft sich.
The conflict eases.

The intransitive form is called anticausative, hence the process is called causative alternation. In German, the anticausative does not have its own morphosyntactical forms, but is usually identical with reflexive verbs.

English also has verbs with causative alternation, e.g. to ease, to open and to break. English does not use the reflexive form to mark the anticausative, but the alternation itself works the same way. We already see it above when we look at to ease. Another example:

He opens the door.
The door opens. (in German reflexive: öffnet sich/'opens itself')

  • Remark to the last example: "öffnen" exists als in a properly intransitive form, i.e., apart from Er öffnet die Tür and Die Tür öffnet sich, there is also Der Laden öffnet (montags immer um 8 Uhr). May 9, 2021 at 5:09
  • 2
    The jargon can be confusing here. Wiktionary allows "ergative" to be used when transitive and intransitive switch subjects, for example in the entry for ankohlen. I personally think it's clearer to just list the meanings separately, as in the entry for aufbrechen, especially if such labels aren't used consistently. But Wiktionary does have a habit of never using "cat" when Felis catus will do.
    – RDBury
    May 9, 2021 at 5:59
  • @RDBury The terminology of that is supremely fuzzy (and debated), especially on joint works like Wikipedia and Wiktionary where it changes between articles. There was a controversy about using the term ergative for those verbs at the end of the 60s, and the main counter-argument is that it should be reserved for the case. Also, the distinction between ambitransitive and anticausative verbs is not very clear. In German, I would say, it's whether the verb forms become reflexive (anticausative) or not (ambitransitive) after the alternation. May 10, 2021 at 1:52
  • @amadeusamadeus: Interesting, I didn't know the term was controversial, just that it was confusing to have multiple words (all unfamiliar to the layman) describing very similar things. To me, grammar is a shortcut to learning a language, and while it's certainly an interesting field in its own right, it's not one I have time to master on top of learning that language. (German is challenging enough.) So while a certain amount of grammatical jargon is useful, I'm suspicious of learning new terms that might not help with the main goal.
    – RDBury
    May 10, 2021 at 7:31

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