Tag Archives: reflexive

Until we meet (us) again

I’m working my way through »250 Grammatik-Übungen: Deutsch als Fremdsprache« which covers A1-B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre1_en.asp). With the exercises I’ve completed so far, I’ve discovered a few gaps, Wissenslücke, in my grasp of German. One of these, Konjunktiv I, or the special subjunctive, is not something over which I will be losing any sleep. The most common use appears to be to indicate that someone else has said something – indirect speech. With the exception of sein, all of the verbs in Konjunktiv I are regular, so if/when I decide to get to grips with this mood, knowing when to use it will be the only challenging piece.

The second gap involves (I was going to say “includes” but can a gap include something?!) the reflexive verbs. It is not that my vocabulary is devoid of reflexives, however, as many of them have to do with activities of daily living – taking a bath/shower, combing/brushing your hair, getting dressed – and I am a childless adult who can take care of these unassisted, they haven’t seemed vital or wissenwert. It is also true that the majority of the ones I have learned either take the dative case (Ich muss mir das überlegen – “I have to think it over”) or have to do with mental events or social actions (Ich will mich nur umsehen – “i just want to look around/I’m just looking” – in response to Kommen Sie zurecht? – “Are you doing okay?/Can I help you?” in a shop). In one case, sich vorstellen, the reflexive verb combines these two factors in that one must learn the difference between the accusative and the dative forms: ich stelle mich vor and ich stelle mir vor – “I introduce myself” vs. “I imagine.” My use of a reciprocal reflexives is also somewhat spotty. I know now to say Wir treffen uns for “We’ll meet” but I can easily forget to add the reflexive pronoun with unterhalten – “discuss” or “talk.”

Luckily, there are good online resources to help me become better acquainted with both the special subjunctive mood and the reflexive verbs. It will be interesting to see what new gaps emerge as I leave the verbs and move onto nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles, sentence forms, etc.

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Behave Yourself!

This short phrase is one that I suspect nearly every reader who was raised in a English speaking household heard with some regularity. So common is its usage, that I was somewhat startled when I began to think about the questions this phrase could raise for a non-native speaker, especially one whose mother tongue happened to be German.

1. Should the initial “be-” be treated as a prefix? That is, is “behave” a modification of “have?”  Should it be treated as a compound formed from “be” and “have?” Or, is it a base form that cannot be broken down further?

2. How is it pronounced? Like the “ave” in “have” or the “ave” in “save?” And what about using “leave” as a pronunciation guide? Or the “ave” in “suave” or “Ave Maria?”

3. Knowing that one translation is benehmen and that there is also the noun das Benehmen which means “manners” does it have something to do with being polite? Or does it take more from another possible translation verhalten and its related noun das Verhalten, meaning “behavior” or “conduct,” and related adjective verhalten which means “restrained?” To add to the fun, note that one of the other meanings of verhalten is “to pause” or “to stop.”

4. In German, when you want to say someone “behaved well” or “badly” or “childishly,” you use the reflexive forms sich benehmen and sich verhalten. Is the “yourself” or “yourselves” obligatory? That is, is there a difference between “Behave!” and “Behave Yourself!” in terms of their meanings or the contexts in which they are used?

Perhaps the best advice when faced with “behave” is to simply “be yourself.”


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Both a borrower and a lender be

Imagine waking up and finding it’s okay to say “Hey, will you borrow me some money?” Well, you might just be in Germany!  On dict.cc, leihen is the translation most commonly given for “to lend” and ausleihen for “to borrow.” Keep looking, though, and “to borrow” shows up under leihen and “to lend” shows up under ausleihen. Moreover, if you look up leihen or ausleihen in ein Wörterbuch you will find both translations given as possible meanings . When I saw a translation of Shakespeare’s line as Kein Borger sei und auch Verleiher nicht, I began to hope that borgen, which looks and sounds quite a bit like “borrow,” might mean this and only this. In turns out, however, that it can also mean “to lend.” (Interestingly, the Online Etymology Dictionary shares this gem in the entry for “borrow” – Old High German boragen “to beware of” – perhaps Shakespeare had this meaning in mind when he put those words in Polonius’ mouth?!).

A Practical Dictionary of German Usage, while confirming the substitutability, did offer a bit of help. When “lend” is the intention, there is often a dative pronoun indicating the recipient – Kannst du mir bitte Hamlet leihen? When the sense is “borrow,” there is often a dative pronoun but in this case it is reflexive, referring back to the subject who is doing the borrowing, and the sentence can include a von or a bei – Ich habe mir Hamlet von dir geliehen.

Two other family members intrigued me. The first is verleihen which is used when it is the figurative sense of “lend” that is intended.  DWDS.de gives as an example die dicken Wände liehen dem Raum angenehme Kühle – “the think walls lent the room a pleasant coolness” – and from the Practical Dictionary comes Der Hopfen verleiht dem Bier den bitteren Geschmack – “The hops lent the beer its bitter taste.” The other, pumpen, which is the familiar version of leihen (and like it can be either “lend” or “borrow”), makes me giggle because I see someone “pumping” someone else for a loan: könnte ich mir bei dir etwas Geld pumpen?

Speaking of loans, to add to the fun, there is der Lohn which means “wage” or “pay” as opposed to “loan,”  which makes your “income tax” die Lohnsteuer. I imagine some of you reading in the US have the feeling that the taxman is “pumping” you for money today!

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