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My question concerns the number of ways one may express "to decide to do sth" in German. One can use "sich entschließen" or "sich entscheiden" followed by a zu-infinitive clause. That I do know. But what about "sich überlegen"? I have read that it too can mean "decide" apart from "consider/think" when used reflexively. Could one express the following using "sich überlegen" or does its usage differ in some way:

I have decided to use this exact wording.

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"sich entscheiden" or "sich entschließen" means to decide, "sich überlegen" means to think about or to consider. These are the "base meanings" as you have found out yourself.

The way you suggest to use "sich überlegen" is a figurative one: the result of some consideration is typically a decision. By mentioning the former you imply the latter, similar to saying e.g. "I went to the cinema" and implying that one not only went there but also watched a movie.

Notice that in this case "sich überlegen" is regularly used in Perfekt. From @tofros answer:

Ich überlege [mir], nach Asien zu reisen.

Using the Präsens suggests that the decision has not happened yet and the consideration is still taking place.

Ich habe mir überlegt, nach Asien zu reisen.

The consideration is already over and a decision (to either go or not to go) was made. The way I'd understand this sentence is: the decision has been made but one is not on his way yet (or might never be if the decision is not to go).

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    If the decision is to not travel to Asia, I would expect the sentence to be "Ich habe mir überlegt, nicht nach Asien zu reisen".
    – Jan
    Jan 24 at 14:36
  • the decision has been made but one is not on his way yet this is a very cool observation. The decision has been made but is not yet "set in stone", e.g. the Asia trip has not started yet. So the decision is kind of weak, but still much firmer than just "I thought about..."
    – AnoE
    Jan 25 at 10:11
  • In my experience (as a fairly advanced German learner), people usually say "ich überlege es mir, etwas zu tun" (mutatis mutandis with the past tense). Is this a misapprehension on my part?
    – S. G.
    Jan 26 at 16:37
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I think

Ich habe mir überlegt, dass ich das genau so sagen werde

roughly captures the meaning of your example sentence. Although in a somewhat implicit and colloquial way.

Random example from the internet where OP asks "Habt ihr euch schon überlegt, ob ..." and most answers seem to be about decisions rather than about a thought process.

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    Imho "überlegen" is still more about "collecting pros and cons". This may, of course, lead to a decision, but doesn't have to. "Ich habe mir das stundenlang überlegt, aber kann mich nicht entscheiden (I considered that for hours but can't decide)" would be a perfect answer to "Habt Ihr euch schon überlegt". Jan 24 at 8:00
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    @GuntramBlohm Your example would also be a perfect answer to "Habt ihr euch schon entschieden?".
    – Jan
    Jan 24 at 10:00
  • @GuntramBlohm: I agree with Jan that without the aber a decision is implied. I'd say the "aber" is the point in your sentence where a non-decision becomes clear. And that works exactly the same with entschieden: "Ich habe mich entschieden, aber jetzt entscheide ich mich um". Jan 24 at 14:28
  • IMHO the implicitly un-decided counterpart to the construction here is "Ich hatte mir überlegt, ..." [implicit: but then those considerations and the implicit decision became obsolete] Jan 24 at 14:30
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Do you have some context?

The expression "sich (etwas) überlegen" means to think about or consider something.

Of course, after consideration there may come a decision, so this may be implied.

If someone asks you to do something you don't want to do, you can answer that you will consider it. You may either really think about the request, or just consider it a polite rejection. Eventually you will either reach a decision or the decision will be moot.

Still, "consider" doesn't mean "decide" and "sich überlegen" doesn't mean "sich entscheiden".

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  • Going by feel alone, "sich überlegen" definitely can point to a decision having been made. Maybe not as firm as other formulations, but much firmer than having none at all, and definitely firmer than "consider" would imply in English.
    – AnoE
    Jan 25 at 10:13
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The reflexive vs. non-reflexive use of "sich überlegen" and "überlegen" doesn't really change anything in meaning. So

Ich überlege, nach Asien zu reisen

and

Ich überlege mir, nach Asien zu reisen

mean exactly the same, namely "I am considering to travel to Asia". Not the least bit of a "to decide" hint.

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  • Interesting. According to this article, the reflexive version can imply "decisiveness" yourdailygerman.com/meaning-ueberlegen
    – Dr.Doom
    Jan 23 at 18:56
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    @Dr.Doom I don't think that is a very good web page from skimming the part where it says that. "Das überlege ich mir morgen." really does mean "I will think about it tomorrow." and not "I will decide that tomorrow.", although obviously people might infer that if you'll think about it tomorrow you'll also decide it.
    – wonderbear
    Jan 23 at 19:54
  • That the meaning of the reflexive form is the same is not correct for the perfect and preterite usage. Ich habe mir überlegt, nach Asien zu reisen implies that the speaker came to the conclusion that he wants to travel. This is not the case for Ich habe überlegt, nach Asien zu reisen.
    – RHa
    Jan 24 at 11:05
  • @RHa Is it? I don't think so. Ich habe mir überlegt, nach Asien zu reisen, mich aber dann doch für Australien entschieden is perfectly valid.
    – tofro
    Jan 24 at 11:11
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    I am pretty sure that the "Mir" vs. "not mir" is a North-South thing. Southern language seems to prefer the reflective form.
    – tofro
    Jan 24 at 17:48
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"sich überlegen" does not mean per-se "to decide", and the usual translation is rather on the lines of "to ponder" or "to consider" or "to reflect on".

However (in agreement with @Jan's existing answer) when used in the past form in spoken language like "Ich habe mir überlegt, dass ich erst einkaufen gehe, dann Abendbrot esse" can constitute the expression of a decision. In this form it is frequently used as synonym of "entscheiden" or "entschließen" and can be translated as "have/has decided to...". Whether this rather conveys a decision or a thought warranting further discussion certainly also is conveyed somewhat by the tone of voice and the circumstance this statement is spoken in.

In summary: the context rules the translation - and there is not an exact 1:1 translation available.

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  • Perhaps ""Ich habe mir überlegt, dass ich erst einkaufen gehe, dann Abendbrot esse" translates best as "I thought I would first go shopping, then have supper". "I thought" isn't quite the same as "I decided" - it's less decisive. The next sentence could well be "but when Mary phoned, I changed my mind". Jan 25 at 6:25

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