As stated in the question, both "zu sich selbst finden" and "sich selbst finden" means "to find oneself", so my questions:

  1. Are they really interchangeable? Like in the following sentence:
  • Zu sich selbst zu finden ist keine Sache, die Sie von Heute auf Morgen erledigen.
  • Sich selbst zu finden ist keine Sache, die Sie von Heute auf Morgen erledigen.
  1. According to PONS it seems like both "zu" & "selbst" in "zu sich selbst finden" are optional, and I'm puzzled how a preposition "zu" can be omitted without changing the meaning, so are there other instances where this can be encountered too?

  2. I think the verb in "zu sich selbst finden" is intransitive, while in "sich selbst finden" is transitive, is that correct?

  • 1) Ich denke ja (Hinweis: "heute" und "morgen" sind hier Adverbien, werden also kleingeschrieben) 2) "zu sich selbst finden" und "sich finden" sind verschiedene Dinge: "sich finden" bedeutet "sich sammeln, zur Besinnung kommen" 3) "zu sich selbst finden" ist intransitiv, "sich selbst finden" ist reflexiv und somit auch intransitiv
    – Stef
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 20:07

2 Answers 2


The biggest difference is that the "zu" implies a kind of journey or directionality.


Not an answer, but perhaps a clarification. The phrase "to find oneself" is an idiom in English; it has several meanings but the one in the example sentence is (per Wiktionary): "To learn, or attempt to learn, what kind of person one is and what one wants in life." This meaning has a counterpart in German, but it doesn't seem to be used very often, and I couldn't find it in the dictionaries I normally use. My point is that you have to be very careful when using automatic translators in this situation. You're starting with an idiom, which a translator can easily interpret literally, and on top of that the idiom has multiple meanings (Wiktionary lists 5), so you really need a human to discern which of the possible interpretations is correct and produce a German sentence with approximately the same meaning.

In any case, I think you can phrase the German a bit more succinctly, for example: "Sich selbst zu finden, geht nicht von heute auf morgen." Also, you're using Sie to translate "you", but in this case the "you" is referring to people in general, so man is a better translation in German.

That said, I'm not sure that the real issue has anything to do with the idiom itself. You could put any task as the first phrase: "Rom aufzubauen, geht nicht von heute auf morgen."

  • 1
    in "sich selbst zu finden, geht ..." and "Rom aufzubauen, geht ..." the comma is wrong and should be ommitted.
    – bakunin
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 9:58

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