So, I got they are the same tables but they are given separate presentation in the book I have. I can't really get what the big picture difference is between the two things. Could someone explain it in simple words?

  • 2
    Some unsolicited advice: You shouldn't start from tables; start with some sentences and observe which forms occur.
    – David Vogt
    Apr 25, 2022 at 22:34
  • I did, they seem to translate out very similarly.. I am a bit confused because of that Apr 25, 2022 at 22:35
  • In short, as RDBury already wrote, a reflexive pronoun is used instead of a personal pronoun if an object of a sentence is identical to the subject. I fail to see what is so hard to understand about that.
    – RHa
    Apr 26, 2022 at 6:56

2 Answers 2


A reflexive pronoun is used whenever an object in a sentence is the same as the subject. The difference in English is much easier to see because English always adds "-self" or "-selves". For example: "I see myself in the mirror." "We see ourselves in the mirror." "The dog sees himself in the mirror." In the first example, "I" is the subject because "I" am doing the seeing. But "I" am also the one being seen, and since they are the same the sentence requires the reflexive pronoun "myself" instead of the usual personal pronoun "me". So "The dog sees me in the mirror," but "I see myself in the mirror."

The concept is the same in German, except there are no "-self" or "-selves" endings as in English. Instead, the reflexive pronouns are actually the same and the personal pronouns pronouns in the first and familiar second person. So Ich sehe mich im Spiegel. Wir sehen uns im Spiegel. Du siehst dich im Spiegel. German (unlike English) has separate accusative and dative cases, but these are the only two cases you need for reflexive pronouns. In both cases, the reflexive pronouns are the same as the corresponding personal pronouns. It may seem like German is losing some information compared to English, but with a bit of practice you can soon automatically recognize when a pronoun is reflexive. If you really need to make it clear or emphasize it, then you can always add the adverb selbst.

In the third person (er, sie, es, sie), and for the second person formal (Sie) there is only one reflexive pronoun, sich, and this works for both accusative and dative. So: Der Hund sieht sich im Spiegel. Sie sehen sich im Spiegel. It makes sense to have a different reflexive pronoun in the third person to avoid confusion. For example:

Der Hund sieht sich im Spiegel. -- "The dog sees himself in the mirror."
Der Hund sieht ihn im Spiegel. -- "The dog sees him (a man, for example) in the mirror."

Bruce Duncan's grammar site covers this as well. It also includes information about reflexive verbs, which is a whole deal in German.

  • O you seem to have a good explanation for almost very grammar topic. I really recommend you write a book or smthn. (Told this before but again lol) Apr 26, 2022 at 8:08

The confusion arises if you look at verbs which are not reflexive syntax-wise but can be used (semantics-wise) in a reflexive way:

In the non-reflexive expression etwas im Spiegel anschauen ("watch something in the mirror"), the object etwas can happen to be identical with the subject of the verb - one can watch oneself in the mirror. In this case, the sentence Ich schaue mich im Spiegel an describes a reflexive action. Nonetheless, the verb itself (etwas anschauen) is not reflexive. Hence, seeing the sentence alone, it might not be clear, whether mich is a reflexive or a personal pronoun. The distinction is even hard to make sense of in this case. These verbs are called "unechte reflexive Verben" ("phony reflexive verbs").

But there are some verbs which are syntactically reflexive but not semantically. In this case, it is clear that the pronoun is a reflexive pronoun. The reflexive pronoun does not indicate a reflexive action in this case. Examples are:

  • sich etwas vorstellen ("to imagine sth.")
  • sich ausruhen ("to rest")
  • sich schämen ("to be embarrassed")

There are more examples. These verbs are called "echte reflexive Verben" ("true reflexive verbs"). True reflexive verbs cannot be formed without the reflexive pronoun.

Probably, all true reflexive verbs have evolved from phony reflexive verbs in the past. Nonetheless, the boundary between phony and true reflecive verbs is definitive: When German speakers say sich schämen, they do not think of a verb schämen, and it does not exist in German.

The differentiation of the personal pronoun and the reflexive pronoun makes most sense for true reflexive verbs and is blurry for phony reflexive verbs.

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