I was reading the following explanation:

How come there are two ways to conjugate the same verb? (e.g. erschrecken)

however I am still confused with the verb "to scare".

I gather from the above example that if one wanted to say:

  • you are scared of spiders = "du erschrickst vor Spinnen" (which seems to be from the verb erschrecken/erschrak/bin erschrocken)

  • you scare the little child, when you laugh = "du erschreckst das kleine Kind, wenn du lachst" (which seems to be from the verb erschrecken/erschreckte/hat erschrocken from the above link)

but when do you use the reflexive "sich erschrecken"? I thought it would have been "du erschrickst dich vor Spinnen"? or would that be more if you wanted to say "you scare jmdn with etwas"?

and when do you use "hat erschreckt"?

Please could you give examples for each of the above? I'm finding it tricky separating the different scenarios with the correct verb form. Thanks in advance.

  • 3
    Erschrecken is tricky. The average German is likely to be unsure if it's "erschrak" or "erschreckte" or whatever, so don't worry too much if it's confusing.
    – ssc
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 20:38

6 Answers 6


The wiki seems quite helpful on this

Firstly the citation

(which seems to be from the verb erschrecken/erschreckte/hat erschrocken from the above link)

gives the last form not correct. It's

erschrecken/erschreckte/hat erschreckt

but when do you use the reflexive "sich erschrecken"?

This is colloquial and is not found in written form (usually). It can be used either with regular or irregular inflection.

Bist du erschrocken? - intransitiv
Hast du dich erschrocken? - reflexiv

Both sentences are equal in their sense. The reflexive version emphasizes the object (oneself) and it is mostly used, when there is a certain event it refers to. So the second case (I assume) is more common.

I thought it would have been "du erschrickst dich vor Spinnen"?

Also possible, but since it is a general statement one might rather use du erschrickst vor Spinnen. No rule, but an attempt to figure common usage.

or would that be more if you wanted to say "you scare jmdn with etwas"?

jmdn implicates an accusative object, thus the transitive verb with the regular inflection.

erschrecken/erschreckte/hat erschreckt

e. g.

Hat er dich (mit der Klingel) erschreckt?

and when do you use "hat erschreckt"?

Thats the case above. with etwas surely is optional


On this website they talk about three different meanings of "erschrecken" which sound quite plausible.


The transitive and regular verb "jemanden erschrecken" (to scare sb) is used with "haben" when conjugated.

Das laute Geräusch hat die Nachbarn erschreckt. etc.

The intransitive and irregular verb "erschrecken" (to be frightenden by sb/sth) is used with "sein" when conjugated.

Er erschrickt. Sie erschraken. Sie sind erschrocken. etc.

The reflexive verb "sich erschrecken" (also to be frightened by sb/sth) is used colloquially.

Ich erschreckte mich zu Tode. or: Ich erschrak mich zu Tode.


Classical Greek still had "medium voice" between "active voice" and "passive voice" as a separate verb form. This voice is used for reflexive use and verbs expressing emotions.

This voice, probably once part of a common language ancestor, is only found in traces in other languages and in German often is considered to be a complete different verb. Latin has inherited "deponentia", verbs with passive forms (a fair number of medium voice forms are identical to passive forms even in Greek) and active (usually intransitive) meaning.

For German, the difference is often that the reflexive/self-referential use of a verb variant is declined strongly (changing its vowels and adding "-en" to the past participle) while the transitive variant is declined weakly (retaining its vowels and adding "-t" to the past participle).

So we have: "ich erschrecke dich", "ich erschrecke [mich]" ("mich" optional), but "ich erschreckte dich", "ich erschrak" ("mich" impossible), "ich habe dich erschreckt", "ich habe mich erschrocken" or "ich bin erschrocken" ("mich" required in the first, impossible in the second where arguably "erschrocken" is not as much a verb form but an adjective in usage).

Similar "ich lege ein Puzzle", "ich liege", "ich legte ein Puzzle", "ich lag", "ich habe ein Puzzle gelegt", "ich habe gelegen" where the medium voice derived form is considered a separate verb in current grammar.

Also "ich setze dich auf einen Stuhl", "ich sitze auf einem Stuhl", "ich setzte dich auf einen Stuhl", "ich saß auf einem Stuhl", "ich habe dich auf einen Stuhl gesetzt", "ich habe auf einem Stuhl gesessen": again the depth current grammars descend to is that we are talking about two different unrelated verbs with different forms that magically share the same root.

Of course, like with most things in language, this rule has exceptions: "helfen" is conjugated strongly although being a transitive verb. But when one verb (or one "apparent" verb) has both a strong and a weak form of conjugation, chances are that the meanings are related and that the strong form of conjugation is used for an intransitive or reflexive meaning while the weak form is for transitive use.


Theoretically, it would be possible that one scares oneself, though "erschrecken" is normally used only with reference to sudden events. Otherwise, I am not sure that a reflexive use of "erschrecken" makes sense.

Therefore, it must be "Du erschrickst vor Spinnen." but you can say "Du fürchtest dich vor Spinnen."

"hat erschreckt" is just the perfect of the active form: "Der Knall hat mich erschreckt."

  • "Ich habe mich erschrocken, als ich die Spinne gesehen habe" ist mir geläufig. duden.de/rechtschreibung/erschrecken_gruseln_erbeben_fuerchten
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 7:41
  • Thanks, I'm still confused however when one would say hat erschreckt vs hat erschrocken. Could one also say "der Knall hat mich erschrocken"?
    – user5105
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 19:07
  • @CarstenSchultz... I concur... it is totally fine in past tense. The present use is just rare and that makes it sound odd.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 22:36
  • @user5105 No. Der Knall hat die Hunde erschreckt. Ich bin erschrocken (oder: Ich erschrak), als es knallte. "Der Knall" is the active agent who caused the Erschrecken in the dogs. In the second sentence, the speaker tells that Erschrecken happened to him.
    – Ingo
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 23:08
  • @CarstenSchultz Logischer wäre dann allerdings doch "Ich habe mich erschreckt ..."
    – Ingo
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 23:18

you are scared of spiders is usually translated as Du hast Angst vor Spinnen, as

to be scared of ... => Angst haben vor ...


Well let me try, first in English.

There are:

  1. To be afraid (of something).
  2. To frighten someone.
  3. To be shocked.
  4. To scare someone away.
  5. To shock someone into action / awareness.
  6. To become wary and give up on a plan or an idea.

In German the translations would be:

  1. Vor etwas Angst haben.
  2. Jemandem Angst einjagen.
  3. Sich erschrecken.
  4. Jemanden abschrecken.
  5. Jemanden aufschrecken.
  6. Vor einem Vorhaben zurückschrecken.

The varying meanings are expressed either with different verbs, or the same verb used with different cases (accusative vs. dative).

  • I am not surprised about your confusion, the examole given, which you quote, is unusual though not incorrect. In German we say one has "Angst vor Spinnen" - a general condition. A specific instance of being shocked by poking a tarantula in your shoe with your toe would be "ich habe mich total erschrocken!".
    – RQ'
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 0:16
  • 1
    I do not see how this answers the question.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 21:40
  • Das tut es auch nicht. Der Kommentar bezieht sich auf einen inzwischen gelöschten, vorherigen Kommentar des OPs.
    – RQ'
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 21:44

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