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I'm just starting out with German, and this may sound dumb, but here it goes. So, here is a sentence:

Kann ich meinen Hund mitnehmen?

This translates to

Can I take my dog with me?

in English. The thing that I don't quite get is why there is no word denoting "me". Is it baked into the separable verb "mitnehmen"? If so, then is it common with separable verbs in German to have things like indirect objects being included in their meaning?

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    Advice: Never assume that for every word in one language there is a corresponding word in the other language. Another example: I am going to drive home is not Ich bin vorhabend Hause zu fahren but Ich habe vor, nach Hause zu fahren. In turn Ich habe vor, nach Hause zu fahren is not I have before to drive to home but I am going to drive home. You see, English and German typically use different expressions to represent the same matter. May 10, 2023 at 18:16

2 Answers 2

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No, mitnehmen has no built-in “me”.

Kannst du deinen Hund mitnehmen? — Can you take your dog with you?

The English phrasal verb is to take something with someone and it needs to tell that person who takes the direct object. And that must be a backreference to the subject but puzzingly, not with a reflexive pronoun. It's a complicated verb phrase.

German mitnehmen is much simpler. Such an non-reflexive reflexive adverbial is not needed at all. The subject suffices. You can however add the adverbial.

Kann ich meinen Hund mit mir mitnehmen?

Kannst du deinen Hund mit dir mitnehmen?

It's allowed but not too common. If you add that adverbial, it emphasizes the action. Unlike in English, it's truly reflexive.

Kann er seinen Hund mit sich mitnehmen?

Sich is the only reflexive pronoun German has. Otherwise we use the personal pronouns.

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  • "deinen Hund" = "your dog" oder "meinen Hund" = "my dog"? Bin nicht sicher, was im Beispiel gemeint ist ... May 10, 2023 at 20:22
  • Es geht nicht um den Hund. Der ist doch nur das Akkusativ-Objekt bzw. Direct Object. Es geht um das Adverbial. Im Englischen ist das zwar auch reflexiv, denn es muss auf das Subjekt verweisen. Allerdings seltsamerweise nicht mit Reflexivpronomen, sondern mit Personalpronomen.
    – Janka
    May 10, 2023 at 20:23
  • Ich weiß, aber im ersten Beispiel sieht es so aus, als wäre "my dog" die Übersetzung für "deinen Hund". May 10, 2023 at 20:24
  • Oh, hab's nicht gesehen. Danke.
    – Janka
    May 10, 2023 at 20:26
  • English has particle verbs while German has separable verbs, but my impression there are many more of the latter. So it's not surprising that there are separable verbs with no corresponding particle verbs and "mitnehmen" is an example. I would say that German has many reflexive pronouns, but most of them look just like the corresponding personal pronouns. That's just a terminology choice though.
    – RDBury
    May 10, 2023 at 20:34
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No, there is no baked in me or you or any other pronoun in the verb mitnehmen. What really puzzles you and many other English native speakers is the meaning of the prefix mit- in many German words like Mitglied, Mitarbeiter, mitmachen, mitnehmen, mitbringen, mitwirken, mitarbeiten, mitspielen, Mitbürger, mitreißend and many more.

This prefix mit- is closely related to the preposition mit which is with in English, but when used as prefix, is better translated as co-. This prefix that you find in many English words is derived from the latin word cum which means with, together, in combination:

  • The Mitarbeiter is literally a co-worker (a with-worker), i.e. someone who works with others. But more frequent English terms are employee, member of staff or other words that start with co- or con-:
    • contributor (latin cum = with, latin tribuere = to allot, to pay)
    • collaborator (latin cum = with, latin laborare = to work)
    • colleague (latin cum = with, PIE1 leg = to collect, to gather)
  • The verb mitarbeiten is closely related to the noun Mitarbeiter and means to co-work (to work in a team or as a member of a group).
  • The word Mitglied, which is member in English is built from mit- and the noun Glied. Later can mean a limb (arm, leg, but also penis), but also a link (in a chain) or in a mathematical context a term in a sequence or series or more general a constituent (latin cum = with, latin statuere = to set, to stand, to make firm). So, the literal meaning of Mitglied is like co-link or co-constituent which already has a doubled co- in it.
  • A Mitbürger is literally a co-citizen, i.e. a citizen among other citizens. So you maybe should think of Mitbürger as fellow citizen, but in most situations just citizen (German: Bürger) will do it as well.
  • The verb mitmachen means to participate, but is built from mit- and machen (to do, to make) and therefore literally means co-do or co-make, i.e. you do or make something together with others.
  • When you hear the verb mitbringen, you should interpret is as co-bring. You bring something as a side-effect of being there anyway. I have written more about the difference between bringen and mitbringen in another answer.
  • The verb mitnehmen is very similar to mitbringen and can be interpreted as to co-take. What I've written about mitbringen in the linked answer is also valid for mitnehmen.

I could continue this list for dozens or maybe even hundreds of German words that all start with mit- and I always would stress out that you should try to find an English word that starts with co-. Even if that constructed word in most cases is not a real English word (like co-citizen or co-bring), it maybe helps you to get the correct menaing of the German word.


So, here is your sentence:

Kann ich meinen Hund mitnehmen?

First, let's think about a plausible context and the meaning of this sentence: A person who says this sentence just was invited to join some activity (to go for a walk with someone, to visit a friend, etc.). The invited person has a dog and they want that their dog also is allowed to join the same activity. So, the dog accompanies the invited person, i.e. the dog does something aside to its owner, or as companion of its owner. So the dog's activity is a co-activity. And the meaning of the German sentence is this:

Can I let my dog join our planned activity?

So, the focus is not at bringing the dog with me, but on having the dog as member of our group. So you don't ask "Can I bring my dog with me?"« but you ask »"Can I let my dog join us?"«


1 PIE = Proto-Indo-European

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  • "... dozens or maybe even hundreds of German words that all start with mit- ...": DWDS lists a total of 52 under its two entries for "mit". Many of the "co-" words come to English through Old French instead of directly from Latin, and meanings may drift in the process. A random example: "Mitleid" = "compassion", but breaking down "Mitleid: produces "co-sorrow". "Passion" as "suffering" is obsolete in English except in certain phrases.
    – RDBury
    May 11, 2023 at 9:57

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