Reflexive choice in Dutch and German

Hendriks, P., Hoeks, J. C. J. & Spenader, J., Oct-2014, In : The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics. 17, 3, p. 229-252 24 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Standard Dutch and German have two reflexive forms: a weak form ('zich' in Dutch and 'sich' in German) and a strong form ('zichzelf' in Dutch and 'sich selbst' in German). The choice between the two reflexive forms in Dutch has been explained by the selectional restrictions of the verb, distinguishing between three verb classes: inherently reflexive verbs, accidentally reflexive verbs and transitive verbs. The same three verb classes can be distinguished in German, suggesting that the factors governing reflexive choice in Dutch and German are similar. However, several studies have pointed out that Dutch 'zich' is more restricted in its use than German 'sich'. We used a forced-choice task to test adult Dutch and German participants on their preference for the weak versus strong reflexive form with various verb classes and sentence types. Comparing similar sentences across the two languages, we observe an overall preference for the strong reflexive in Dutch but an overall preference for the weak reflexive in German. Looking at the participants’ reflexive choices within each language, we found effects of verb class, syntactic structure (transitive versus ECM constructions) and semantic features. Whereas the semantic feature habituality affected reflexive choice in neither language, intentionality did so in Dutch only, and tense and possibly focus affected reflexive choice in both languages. These observations seem problematic for the syntactically motivated dual-entry account of reflexive choice, but are consistent with the likelihood account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-252
Number of pages24
JournalThe Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2014


  • Reflexives, Verb class, ECM construction, Habituality, Intentionality

Download statistics

No data available

ID: 12580257