Using Reflexive Verben (Reflexive Verbs)
Reflexive verbs are those that act on the subject itself. In English, this is demonstrated in the usage of the word “oneself.” For example: to look at oneself, to apply makeup on oneself, etc.
In German, the word “oneself” is equivalent to the word “sich.” So in the pure or infinitive form, the verbs that are reflexive would always have sich. If you look up the verb, the indication of sich in the infinitive is a clue that it’s reflexive.
Let’s have a closer look at reflexive verbs with a noteworthy example from our daily routine: sich rasieren (to shave oneself). The reflexive verb is composed of sich along with rasieren (to shave).
When used in context, sich changes to respective reflexive components such as mich (myself), dich (yourself, informal), sich (himself, herself, itself, themselves or yourself, formal), uns (ourselves) or euch (yourselves).
The rasieren would get conjugated like a usual German verb. In effect, this is how it would look:
ich rasiere mich (I shave myself)
du rasierst dich (you shave yourself)
er/sie/es rasiert sich (he/she/it shaves him/her/itself)
wir rasieren uns (we shave ourselves)
ihr rasiert euch (you all shave yourselves)
Sie/sie rasieren sich (you/they shave yourself/themselves)
Understanding Accusative vs. Dative: Look for Body or Clothing Words
What are the akkusativ (accusative) and dativ (dative) cases in German?
A case in general defines the relationship between the subject and object in a sentence. If the object is a direct object (i.e. an action is being done to it) then it’s accusative. Common akkusativ verbs (verbs that require the accusative case, a.k.a. verbs that take direct objects) in German are haben (to have), trinken (to drink), essen (to eat) and sehen (to see).
When the verb makes the subject perform an indirect action, the sentence takes a dative case in German. For example:
Ich gebe meinem Bruder einen Kuli. (I give my brother a pen.)
Here, the subject is Ich (I), the direct object is meinem Bruder (my brother) because he’s receiving the pen, while Kuli (the pen) is the indirect object. Without the indirect object my sentence isn’t complete. Common dativ verbs in German are helfen (to help), danken (to thank), schicken (to send) and schenken (to gift/give as a gift).
Now here’s where things get tricky. Reflexive verbs can work either as accusative or dative entities. This depends on whether there’s a body part indicated or not. When there’s a body part, it acts as the indirect object of the sentence, giving it a dative case. If there’s no body part, it gives the accusative effect of a direct action.
Let’s look at an example from our daily routine for a clearer understanding:
Sich waschen (to wash oneself) alone would be accusative. The conjugation would work as follows:
sich waschen (to wash oneself)
ich wasche mich (I wash myself)
du wäschst dich (you wash yourself)
er/sie/es wäscht sich (he/she/it washes him/her/itself)
wir waschen uns (we wash ourselves)
ihr wascht euch (you all wash yourselves)
Sie/sie waschen sich (you was yourself/they wash themselves)
But if I were to say sich die Hände waschen (to wash one’s hands), this would be dative, as the body part Hände (hands) acts as an indirect object.
sich die Hände waschen (to wash one’s hands)
ich wasche mir die Hände (I wash my hands)
du wäschst dir die Hände (you wash your hands)
er/sie/es wäscht sich die Hände (he/she/it washes his/her/its hands)
wir waschen uns die Hände (we wash our hands)
ihr wascht euch die Hände (you all wash your hands)
Sie/sie waschen sich die Hände (you wash your hands/they wash their hands)
As you’ll notice between these two examples, mich (me) changes to mir in the dative case, and dich (you) changes to dir in the dative case. The other reflexive pronouns are pretty much the same, except that the body part is the extra component in there.
The similar case of deciding between the accusative and dative cases occurs with verbs that include a piece of clothing.
When there’s a piece of clothing included for verbs like sich anziehen (to dress), it becomes dative, as the piece of clothing acts as an indirect object. So “I wear a dress” becomes “Ich ziehe mir ein Kleid an.”
But if the piece of clothing weren’t present, it would turn into an accusative case, such as I dress myself (Ich ziehe mich an). Similar verbs that follow this pattern are sich umziehen (to change clothes) and sich ausziehen (to undress).
Using Trennbare Verben (Breakable/Separable Verbs)
There are certain breakable verbs that play a fundamental role in describing your daily routine. Many of these verbs allow you to express your daily chores without involving too many words.
For example: if you consider the verb fernsehen (to watch television), it encapsulates the entire action of watching television, without actually having a separate word for “television” in it. The verb breaks into fern and sehen, where fern acts like a prefix and is placed usually at the end of the sentence.
The verb sehen (to see) takes the second place in the sentence, conjugated according to the subject depending on whether it’s ich (I), du (you), etc. It would look something like this:
Ich sehe jeden Tag fern. (I watch television every day.)
Du siehst jeden Tag fern. (You watch television every day.)
Er/sie/es sieht jeden Tag fern. (He/she/it watches television every day.)
And so on…
The most common prefixes in breakable verbs are: an- (at, being, onward, on, toward, to), auf- (on, open, out, up, un-), vor– (before, forward, pre-, pro) and aus– (out, outward, extended, completely, missing). You could find most prefixes and their interpretations with examples here.
There are quite a few words in the daily routine that could be a mix of reflexive and breakable verbs. For example, let’s look at sich ausruhen (to relax/rest oneself).
ich ruhe mich aus (I relax myself)
du ruhst dich aus (you relax yourself)
er/sie/es ruht sich aus (he/she/it relaxes him/her/itself)
wir ruhen uns aus (we relax ourselves)
ihr ruht euch aus (you all relax yourselves)
Sie/sie ruhen sich aus (you relax yourself/they relax themselves)
Top 10 Must-know German Words to Describe Your Daily Routine
We now take a look at the top ten most commonly used grammar structures that a native German would use to describe his or her daily routine. Each word in the list below will be defined and its usage will be demonstrated with example sentences.
1. Aufstehen (To Wake Up)
Ich stehe normalerweise um 6 Uhr auf. (I usually/normally wake up at 6:00.)
2. Ausgehen (To Go Out)
Whether you’re off to the mall, grocery shopping, a romantic dinner date or a visit to your sick aunt, and don’t want to give out too much detail, this is the perfect verb to use to indicate you’re going to be out of your nest!
Wir gehen heute Abend aus. (We are going out this evening.)
3. Spazierengehen(To Go for a Stroll/Walk)
This verb can be used to say specifically that you’re taking a relaxing stroll in the park. This is a common daily routine activity among Germans, given many are physically active people who love nature.
Wir gehen täglich nach dem Mittagessen spazieren. (Every day we go for a walk after lunch.)
4. Einkaufen (To Go Grocery Shopping)
As you’ll notice, the complete activity has been fit into this handy verb. Without actually using the word “grocery” anywhere, it’s possible to explicitly convey the action of going to the supermarket and buying all that you need for your grub and your home!
Peter kauft jeden Samstag bei Lidl ein. (Peter goes grocery shopping every Saturday at Lidl.)
5. Sich die Zähne putzen (To Brush One’s Teeth)
Here you can notice how the verb can be used in a dative and accusative manner by including and excluding the body part, which is the teeth in this case.
Usage (dative, includes body part): Ich putze mir die Zähne nach dem Frühstück. (I brush my teeth after breakfast.)
Usage (accusative, without body part): Ich putze mich nach der Arbeit. (I clean myself after work.)
6. Sich duschen (To Bathe Oneself)
Ich dusche mich nicht täglich im Winter. (I don’t bathe every day in winter)
This verb can also be used in a non-reflexive manner. I could also say “Ich dusche nicht täglich nicht im Winter,” giving “mich” a miss, and it would still not be wrong.
7. Sich rasieren (To Shave Oneself)
Usage (dative, includes body part): Ich rasiere mir die Beine für eine romantische Verabredung. (I shave my legs for a romantic date.)
Usage (accusative, without body part): Ich rasiere mich für eine romantische Verabredung. (I shave myself for a romantic date.)
8. Sich anziehen (To Dress Oneself/To Wear Something onto Oneself)
This is a classic case where all the three aspects come together—the reflexive nature along with it being breakable and by bringing in a piece of clothing (which is the jacket in this case), that acts as the indirect object, making it dative.
When the piece of clothing doesn’t come into the picture, it becomes an accusative sentence, making the action direct.
Usage (dative, includes piece of clothing): Du ziehst dir eine Jacke an. (You wear a jacket.)
Usage (accusative, without piece of clothing): Du ziehst dich sehr schick an. (You dress yourself very fashionably.)
9. Sich schminken (To Apply Makeup on Oneself)
Usage (dative, includes body part): Ich schminke mir die Augen vor der Party. (I apply makeup to my eyes before the party.)
Usage (accusative, without body part): Ich schminke mich vor der Party. (I put makeup on before the party.)
10. Sich ausruhen (To Relax Oneself)
Ich ruhe mich am Ende des Tages aus. (I relax at the end of the day.)
Example Routine Using Our New Vocab
Let’s take a look at how daily routine vocabulary can be used in real life! Before we dive in, let’s go over a few “add-ons” necessary to hold everything together, some of which you saw demonstrated in the examples above.
- Zeitadverbien (Temporal/Narration Adverbs): These important adverbs include Zuerst (first), Dann (then) and Danach(after that). Using these adverbs gives structure to your sentences. It also gives volume to your narration and makes your routine sound less boring/robotic. They begin the sentence and are followed by a verb.
Zuerst stehe ich um 6 Uhr auf. (First, I wake up at 6:00.)
Dann dusche ich mich. (Then, I bathe.)
Danach putze ich mir die Zähne. (After that I brush my teeth.)
- Time Phrases: In the German psyche and sentences, time plays an interesting role. It can be positioned anywhere in the sentence, either at the beginning, at the end or even in the middle. The common practice is citing it at the beginning. Some common phrases are:
Um “x” Uhr (At X:00, where X could be any number)
Nächste Woche (Next week)
Jedes Wochenende (Every weekend)
Jeden Montag, Dienstag… (Every Monday, Tuesday…)
Morgen (Tomorrow), Übermorgen (Day after tomorrow)
Consider Susie’s routine. She’s one busy woman! Let’s take a look at her busy life that pulls the above concepts together:
Susie steht um 6 Uhr auf. Zuerst putzt sie sich die Zähne, und dann duscht sie sich. Danach frühstückt sie, und zieht sich an. Sie geht um 8 Uhr aus, kauft um 9 Uhr ein. Danach kommt sie zurück nach Hause, und wäscht sich. Sie schminkt sich an, und geht auf einer Party um 20 Uhr.
Susie wakes up at 6:00. First she brushes her teeth and then takes a bath. Then, she has her breakfast and gets dressed. She goes out at 8 a.m. and does her grocery shopping at 9 a.m. After that she returns home and washes herself. She then applies makeup and leaves for a party at 8 p.m.
Phew! As you can see, learning your daily routine involves a lot of essential vocabulary and grammar. It’s hard work, but it’s worth the effort, as you get to express yourself commendably in German. There’s no other way around this nor some magical secret other than constant practice.
Incorporating this type of speech in conversations with your German friends or penpals would definitely be a good start to crack these grammar topics. So start right now, as it’s better late than never!