Reciprocal pronouns

(Using reciprocal pronouns in German grammar)

Table of contents – reciprocal pronouns

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of reciprocal pronouns
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What are reciprocal pronouns? How are they used?

Reciprocal pronouns (in German: Reziprokpronomen) are a separate subcategory of pronouns, although they may also be considered a kind of reflexive pronoun. They are used in the sense of ‘each other’ or ‘mutually’ and always refer to another person. Thus, they express reciprocity. When using these pronouns, the subject and the predicate are always in the plural.

When they are reciprocal pronouns, the words ‘sich’ and ‘uns’ do not refer to themselves but to the other person mentioned in the statement or, as in the following example, to the other cat. Compare the sentences:

  • The sentence „Die Katzen kratzen sich die Augen aus.“ (The cats are scratching their eyes out.) can mean the following:
    • First meaning: ‘sich’ functions as a reciprocal pronoun:
      • „Die Katzen kratzen sich einander die Augen aus.“ (The cats are scratching each other’s eyes out.)
    • Second meaning: ‘sich’ as a reflexive pronoun:
      • „Die eine Katze kratzt sich die Augen aus und die andere kratzt sich ebenfalls die Augen aus.“ (The one cat is scratching its eyes out, and the other cat is also scratching its eyes out.)
  • Additional example: „Wir schnitten uns die Haare [Sarah und ich].“ (We cut our hair [Sarah and I].)
    • First meaning: again, ‘uns’ as a reciprocal pronoun:
      • „Wir schnitten uns gegenseitig die Haare.“ (We cut each other’s hair.)
    • Second meaning: ‘uns’ as a reflexive pronoun:
      • „Sarah schnitt sich die Haare und ich schnitt mir auch die Haare.“ (Sarah cut her hair, and I cut my hair too.)

Further explanations related to the ‘Reciprocal pronouns’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Use of reciprocal pronouns in German grammar’ and might also be interesting: