German uses a reflexive dative pronoun and a regular definite article in many places where English would use a possessive pronoun. For example:

I broke my leg.
Ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen.

I wash my hands.
Ich wasche mir die Hände.

Is this as normalized in spoken German as in written? Would you ever say Ich habe meine Hände gewaschen or Ich habe mein Bein gebrochen?

I’m wondering how frequently the form with the dative pronoun has to be used. Should I say Das Baby hat mir den Finger gebissen or Das Baby hat meinen Finger gebissen? Likewise, Ich kitzele seine Füße (z.B. die Füße des Babys) or Ich kitzele ihm die Füße?

1 Answer 1


“Ich habe meine Hände gewaschen” sounds unusual, but not wrong. Regarding the broken leg, I can imagine saying something like “Ich hab’s Bein gebrochen” (= habe das), but “Ich habe mein Bein gebrochen” is too active, as if it had been intentional.

“Das Baby hat mir den Finger gebissen” is wrong; it should be “Das Baby hat mir in den Finger gebissen”. Similarly, “Ich habe mir auf die Zunge gebissen”. “Das Baby hat meinen Finger gebissen” is again unusual.

For kitzeln, both of your examples are OK (but it is normally “kitzle” instead of “kitzele”).

  • 1
    For kitzeln you usually say "Ich kitzele das Baby an den Füßen".
    – elena
    May 21, 2013 at 11:39
  • @chirlu, What if someone else did it? Would you say "Ich habe dein Bein gebrochen" or "Ich habe dir das Bein gebrochen"?
    – kokirii
    May 21, 2013 at 16:46
  • It’s normally “Ich habe dir das Bein gebrochen” even here.
    – chirlu
    May 22, 2013 at 8:44

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