If I want to order my children to wash their hands, is Wasch deine Hände correct or does it require dir like in Wasch dir deine Hände.

Is this extensive to all body parts?


1 Answer 1


"Sich die Hände waschen" is more or less a set phrase, so you may want to use the reflexive pronoun. Actually, often the possessive pronoun in your example would be omitted, so people would say

Wasch' dir die Hände.

It would be grammatically correct to say

Wasch' dir deine Hände.

but this would have a bit of an added emphasis, an impatient vibe: I've asked you three times already!


Wasch' deine Hände.

would also be correct, but I'd see a small nuance in meaning.

"Sich die Hände waschen" refers more narrowly to the act we (hopefully) are all familiar with: Make your hands wet, put soap onto them, lather them up thoroughly (including the thumbs and between the fingers), rinse the soap off and dry your hands. "Wasch' deine Hände" is a bit more general. It could also mean that your kids had a lot of fun in the sand box, and you want them to rinse the sand off their hands before they go inside - not necessarily do a "full hand washing". But this difference is really miniscule and may not be adhered to every time in everyday usage.

Similarily, I'd see a miniscule difference between "Putz' dir die Zähne" and "Putz' deine Zähne". The former refers more narrowly to an established procedure (with maybe a hint of ritual to it), the latter is a bit wider. You might say, you clean something, and it just happens to be one of your own body parts.

  • (Hopefully ... lol) I've noticed that German speakers are reluctant to refer to their body parts as their possessions, while in English we wouldn't say "the hands" unless they were on a clock or at a particularly gruesome crime scene. There seems to be no problem with using haben though: Sie hat weiche Hände.
    – RDBury
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 6:54
  • @RDBury That may be because we already "pointed back to ourselves" with the reflexive pronoun. The structure of "Wasch' dir die Hände" is something like "Wasch yourself the hands". To add an additional possessive pronoun feels to me a bit like, what other hands do you expect to find on me, the neighbor's? ;) Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 9:57
  • Thanks. I've noticed you add ' to the end, like if omitting a missing e. I looked at the dictionary and found that Wasch was like Wasch(e). What does this mean?
    – JorgeeFG
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 20:36
  • @JorgeeFG The imperative form ends with an -e, "wasche". But especially in everyday language that is often shortened to "wasch". To mark that, you can write it with an Auslassungszeichen, in this case an apostrophe, like "wasch'". This omission can happen with many verbs whose imperative form ends with an -e, like "Lasse das" -> "Lass' das" or "Gehe dort hinüber" -> "Geh' dort rüber". See also this earlier question. Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 22:33

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