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The following sentences sound unnatural. Whenever you are trying to say in German that something changes (see the examplex below) the way the sentence sounds and feels in German is totally counter-intuitive and every time I try to say it in German I get stuck.

Examples:

  • Times are changing ...> Die Zeiten ändern sich (klingt schief)
  • The color is changing ...> Die Farbe ändert sich (weiß es nicht ob es schief klingt)

Ist das korrekt oder klingen diese Sätze auf Deutsch ganz schief?

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    Why do you feel they sound unnatural and what is the reason you find this counter-intuitive? What would seem natural/intuitive for you? Nov 20, 2021 at 20:45
  • Everything ist correct. And, by the way, the structure of these sentences is identical with the English versions.
    – Paul Frost
    Nov 21, 2021 at 0:25
  • @PaulFrost Please do not answer in comments. ;)
    – choXer
    Nov 21, 2021 at 0:34
  • Of course. Morgen. Jetzt gehe ich ins Bett Nov 21, 2021 at 2:32
  • Absolutely correct and not strange in the least. Very common phrasing Nov 21, 2021 at 8:46

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This is an example of a reflexive verb; the grammar of reflexive verbs sounds odd to English speakers because English does not really have them, though they are a feature of many other European languages. In my notes I've listed the following as reflexive abwenden, amüsieren, ändern, anfreunden, anhören, anmelden, anschleichen, anziehen, auflösen, ausruhen, ausziehen, ausziehen, bedanken, beeilen, befinden, befreien, beschweren, drücken, duschen, einnisten, entschuldigen, erholen, erinnern, erkälten, fragen, freuen, fühlen, gedulden, gewöhnen, gliedern, infizieren, kümmern, melden, richten, schämen, schleichen, sorgen, treffen, umbringen, umschauen, unterhalten, verirren, verkaufen, verlaufen, vermischen, versammeln, verspäten, verstecken, vorkommen, vorstellen, waschen, zurechtfinden, zusammentun. This is by no means a complete list, just the verbs I've come across that I've determined to have a reflexive meaning, possibly in addition to other meanings. (I'm not going to guarantee the list is 100% accurate either; I don't have anyone fact checking my notes.) For example, ändern has a transitive meaning as in

  • Ich ändere die Geschichte. -- "I'm changing the story."

The typical case is that the verb has a transitive sense, but a corresponding intransitive sense as a reflexive verb. So sich ändern means "to change" as in

  • Die Geschichte ändert sich. -- "The story is changing."

Translated word for word this sounds wrong in English, something like "The story changes itself." (To respond to infinitezero's comment, this is why the German sounds odd to an English speaker.) But this is just one of many differences between English and German. The upshot for learners is that when you see a reflexive pronoun in German what you often have to do is think an intransitive meaning for the transitive verb, or a similar intransitive verb in English. Some reflexive verbs in German don't have a corresponding transitive meaning for whatever reason; in those cases you just have to remember to use the reflexive pronoun in German, even though one is probably not required in English. There are also many verbs in German with both transitive and intransitive meanings where the intransitive meaning does not use a reflexive pronoun. For example:

  • Ich breche den Spiegel. -- "I'm breaking the mirror."
  • Der Spiegel bricht. -- "The mirror is breaking."

You just have learn for each verb whether the intransitive meaning uses a reflexive pronoun. In the case of brechen, it's what is called an ergative verb, meaning that the mirror isn't breaking anything but is being broken. You can think of ergative verbs as forming a kind of passive voice when used with an intransitive meaning. On the other hand, with an agentive verb, the subject stays the same when you use it as an intransitive verb. For example "I'm stealing the money," vs. "I'm stealing." Agentive verbs rarely become reflexive verbs when translated to German, so it's usually only the ergative verbs you have to worry about. (There are, of course, exceptions; erinnern/"to remember" is one.)

German has more complex varieties of reflexive verbs as well. For example if a verb has both an accusative and dative object, then it may be possible to replace one of them with a reflexive pronoun to create a transitive verb:

  • Der Arzt sah sich den Patienten gründlich an. -- "The doctor looked after the patient thoroughly." (Example from Grammis.)

In general there is more variety in the way that verbs are used in German compared to English. German grammar has a reputation for being difficult to master, and perhaps this is one of the reasons.

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    Regarding the last example, "sich etwas ansehen" doesn't really translate to "to look after something". "To look after something" is more like "to take care of something", in German something like "sich um etwas kümmern". "Sich etwas ansehen" means (relatively) literally "to look at something", "to take a look at something". So, "Der Arzt sah sich den Patentien gründlich an" would be something like "The doctor took a thorough look at the patient". Nov 21, 2021 at 11:39
  • @Henning Kockerbeck: Thanks. I was thinking something like that, but I trusted Google translate over the definition in Wiktionary.
    – RDBury
    Nov 21, 2021 at 20:03
  • This intransitive usage of a verb is sometimes called anticausative, which means that the subject is not the cause of the action but is affected by it. Generally, in German an anticausative verb often (but not always) appears together with the reflexive pronoun, whereas in English is does not.
    – RHa
    Nov 21, 2021 at 20:32

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