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I have a question concerning the reflexive use of verbs. While I do understand that there's no such thing as "reflexive verbs", only verbs that may or may not be used reflexively depending on context, I can't help but wonder whether there exists a comprehensive list of German verbs that are exclusively used reflexively. I was told that verbs of grooming are of mandatory reflexive type but I've seen use-cases which suggest otherwise. Thanks in advance.

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  • I shall be surprised if there is a single verb concerning grooming which can be used only reflexively. Anything I can do upon myself I could also do to you - even if that may be strange or uncommon and / or unwelcome. There sure are verbs which can only be used reflexively like 'sich bedanken', but that's not of the mentioned category Jun 22, 2023 at 15:06
  • @Dr.Doom To keep it short: Yes, there are true reflexive verbs. Jun 22, 2023 at 16:51
  • I'm pretty sure the OP is referring to this Herr Antrim video with the title "German Reflexive Verbs Don't Exist". I can see his point, and perhaps for teaching purposes the label "reflexive verb" is less than helpful, but his terminology isn't really accepted by most people.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22, 2023 at 17:13
  • @planetmaker: Sei bedankt für diesen Kommentar! Or, if you prefer it classically: "Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan!" (Lohengrin, Act 1, scene 3). It is disputable, if the participle here is still a form of a verb or rather acts like an adjective, but it is non-reflexive. I haven't checked but I suppose "bedanken" could be used non-reflexively historically and when that form went out of use only the participles retained that option.
    – bakunin
    Jun 23, 2023 at 7:15

1 Answer 1

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Unlike in English, there are proper reflexive verbs in German, i.e. verbs that MUST be used together with a reflexive pronoun under all circumstances. In addition, there are transitive verbs that can also be used reflexively, but these types of verbs also exist in English. An example of a transitive verb that can be used reflexively is waschen (to wash):

  • transitive usage:

    Ich wasche das Auto.
    I wash the car.

  • reflexive usage:

    Ich wasche mich.
    I wash myself.

However, proper reflexive verbs are verbs that can never be used without a reflexive pronoun. In German, there are two kinds of them. One kind needs the reflexive pronoun in the accusative, the other in the dative case. And because the reflexive pronouns differ only in the first and second person singular (ich, du) in these cases, I give all the examples in second person singular. And because some of these verbs are separable, I will use the future tense so they are not separated:

Proper reflexive verbs with accusative reflexive pronoun

Du wirst dich aufregen.
You will be upset.

Du wirst dich auskennen.
You'll know your way around. You'll know your stuff.

Du wirst dich ausruhen.
You will rest.

Du wirst dich bedanken.
You will say thank you.

Du wirst dich beeilen.
You will hurry.

Du wirst dich (über etwas) beschweren.
You will complain (about something).

Du wirst dich bewerben.
You will apply.

Du wirst dich bücken.
You will bend over.

Du wirst dich (für etwas) entscheiden.
You will decide (for something).

Du wirst dich entschließen (etwas zu tun).
You will decide (to do something).

Du wirst dich (für etwas) entschuldigen.
You will apologize (for something).

Du wirst dich erholen.
You will recover.

Du wirst dich erkälten.
You will catch a cold.

Du wirst dich (nach etwas) erkundigen.
You will inquire (about something).

Du wirst dich freuen.
You will be happy.

Du wirst dich (vor etwas) fürchten.
You will be afraid (of something).

Du wirst dich (für etwas) interessieren.
You will be interested (in something).

Du wirst dich irren.
You will be wrong.

Du wirst dich (auf etwas) konzentrieren.
You will focus (on something).

Du wirst dich (um etwas) kümmern.
You will take care (of something).

Du wirst dich schämen.
You will be ashamed.

Du wirst dich (nach etwas) sehnen.
You will long/yearn (for something).

Du wirst dich umsehen.
You will look around.

Du wirst dich verbeugen.
You will bow down. You will take a bow.

Du wirst dich verirren.
You will get lost.

Du wirst dich weigern.
You will refuse.

Du wirst dich wundern.
You'll be surprised.

There is also a fixed phrase that works like a proper reflexive verb:

Du wirst dich auf den Weg machen.
You will be on your way. You're going to hit the road.

Proper reflexive verbs with dative reflexive pronoun

Du wirst dir etwas denken.
You will think of something.

Du wirst dir etwas merken.
You'll remember something.

Du wirst dir etwas vorstellen.
You will imagine something.

Fixed phrase that works like a proper reflexive verb:

Du wirst dir Mühe geben.
You will make an effort.

Du wirst dir Sorgen machen.
You will worry.


Note, that some of these verbs also can used in other meanings (and then in other constructions) where they are no longer proper reflexive verbs. Here is an example:

  1. proper reflexive verb:

Du wirst dich (für etwas) interessieren.
You will be interested (in something).

  1. transitive verb:

Du wirst ihn interessieren.
He will be interested in you.

Although Du is the subject in both sentences, the person who has interest is du only in sentence 1, while in sentence 2 it's ihn who has interest, and du is the object of his interest. So, the verb has another meaning, and therefore it's technically a different verb. (The two verbs are homonyms.) And only one of them is a proper reflexive verb, while in this example, the other is a transitive verb.

Another example:

Du wirst dich fürchten. = You will be afraid. (Proper reflexive)
Du wirst ihn fürchten. = You will fear him. (Transitive)

The meanings are similar, but not identical, and this becomes clearer whan you add something:

Du wirst dich vor der Schlange fürchten. = You will be afraid of the snake. (Proper reflexive)
Du wirst ihn vor der Schlange fürchten. = You will fear him of the snake. (Transitive)

The later sentence makes no sense in German and also no sense in Englisch.

Also this example:

Du wirst dich auf die Arbeit konzentrieren. = You'll focus on the work. (Proper reflexive)
Du wirst den Saft konzentrieren. = You will concentrate the juice. (transitive)

In German it looks like the same verb (konzentrieren), but in English the two homonyms even become two different verbs.

And there is a similar case in the dative group:

Du wirst dir jetzt sicherlich den Herrn Müller vorstellen. = You will surely imagine Mr. Müller now. (Proper reflexive)
Du wirst mir jetzt sicherlich den Herrn Müller vorstellen. = You will certainly introduce Mr. Müller to me now. (transitive)


I think this list is quite comprehensive, as requested by you. But I cannot guarantee that this list is complete. Maybe there is one or another rare verb that should also be on this list.

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  • One nitpick, there are actually two verbs in English that are only used reflexively, at least in ordinary language. They are "perjure" and "pride". I guess that's nothing compared to a lot of languages, including German.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22, 2023 at 17:02
  • 1
    I haven't looked through the entire list, but "aufregen" definitely isn't exclusively reflexive. Etwas kann jemanden aufregen.
    – wonderbear
    Jun 22, 2023 at 18:46
  • bewerben also can be used non-reflexively (etwas bewerben). Similarily konzentrieren. Darf ich Dir eine nicht-reflexive Form dieses Verbs vorstellen und Dich dafür interessieren? Sie machen mir echt Sorgen. Jun 22, 2023 at 18:52

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