Word of the Day – “ansehen”

Hello everyone,

and welcome to our German Word of the Day. This time we will have a look at the meaning of the word:

ansehen

Sehen means to see and an means at or on or to or in and we’ll go with… uhm… at this time. But ansehen is actually not so much the sum of its parts. The glamour is in the grammar. And that is not just a stupid rhyme by the way… those glamour and grammar were the same word once (don’t believe me? Check it here) . But then the Scots extracted the glamour, and ever since “grammar” has the appeal of eating sand. I don’t like grammar…it’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.
But just like Tatooine is nothing without sand, ansehen is nothing without grammar.
So let’s take a look at the different meanings and how to build them. Sounds good? Cool.

etwas ansehen

This is the simplest ansehen and it works exactly like the word to see… so you ansehen something … or someone

  • Ich sehe dich.
  • I see you.
  • Ich sehe dich an.
  • I look at you.

And just like to look at it is used in both, in the general sense or in the specific “looking in the eye” sense.

  • “Sieh mich an, wenn ich mit dir rede!”
    “Mach ich doch!”
    “Nein, weiter oben!”
  • “Look at me, when I’m talking to you!”
    “But I am looking at you.”
    “No, look higher.”

However, to look at is actually pretty broad and ansehen covers only a part of that. For people it works great and although you can do it with things, too, it would sound odd to me to say:

  • Ich habe das Bild angesehen

This sounds like you just see the thing “picture”, you don’t see what’s on it. Or at least it is not the point. Or perhaps it is leaning face against the wall, so you don’t even see the actual picture. So in this case, ansehen is kind of something in between looking at and simply facing something. You have your gaze fixed at something and that’s about it.
If we want get more involved, if we want to really look at the picture as in, well, not just seeing it… then we need to make a little addition… a very very reflexive addition.

sich etwas ansehen

The infamous self referential mir (or dir or sich or uns…)

  • Ich sehe mir das Bild an.
  • I look at the picture to/for myself.(lit)
  • I look at the picture.

This would be commonly understood as a looking at the “content” of the picture. And in general, we could say that the self reference adds the idea of observe. Sich ansehen implies at least some duration, it implies “thoroughness” and involvement of your brain. That is in fact quite a lot like to inspect. You see, specere meant nothing other than to look at in Latin. And the in makes it “more thorough”. The German mir( dir, sich…) does the same … just with a more personal touch.
Let’s look at an example with both ansehens back to back.

  • Ich sehe meine kaputte Waschmaschine an und denke “Na toll, die war neu.”
  • I look at my broken washer and I think “Splendid, it was new.”

Here, I just stand in the door and I look at the mess for a few seconds. Then you call the service technician to ask how much it is going to be and she says

  • Ich komme morgen vorbei und sehe sie mir an.
  • I’ll come by tomorrow and take a look at it /I’ll check it out.

She would never say it without the mir because then it would literally just mean that she is going to “look at it”… like… “I see your broken washer… that’s gonna be 120 bucks”.
Or here’s another example

  • Ich sehe das Buch an.
  • I look at the book (have my gaze fixed at it)
  • Ich sehe mir das Buch an.
  • I look at the book. (turn it around, open it, turn pages, perhaps read a chapter…)

In the first sentence, we see THAT it is, in the second we check out HOW it is.
So… sich(mir, dir…) ansehen means to look at in a more observing, personal sense.
And that is used much more than the version without the self reference.

  • Ich sehe mir einen Film an.
  • I watch a movie.

I don’t just direct my gaze at a movie… I watch them. You might find people who say it without the mir, but to me that would sound quite odd. And as soon as we’re looking at or watching at activities, it is plain wrong to leave out the self reference.

  • The consultant looks at how we work.
  • Der Unternehmensberater sieht an, wie wir arbeiten…. is wrong
  • Der Unternehmensberater sieht sich an, wie wir arbeiten.

You cannot ansehen, how someone does something. That works ONLY with sich ansehen.

  • Wenn ich mir so ansehe, was diese Firma in den letzten Monaten erreicht hat, dann muss ich sagen… da ist noch Luft nach oben.
  • Looking at what the company has achieved over the last few months I have to say… there is still room for improvement.

Now, here are some common phrasings with sich ansehen.

  • Sieh dir das mal an!
  • Look at that!
  • Ich seh’ mir das nicht mehr lange (mit) an.
  • I won’t be taking/accepting/go along with that much longer.

All right.
So this is sich ansehen. One thing we should mention is that doesn’t work well for people. It kind of objectifies them and it doesn’t imply eye contact the way the plain ansehen does. Sich ansehen is what the doctor does with a patient. So a very rough rule of thumb would be… use ansehen for people and sich ansehen for things and activities.
And now let’s get to the third ansehen… which is a bit different than those two.

THE THIRD ANSEHEN

Now,this self reference we just had does feel a bit like those other mirs and dirs that German uses for verbs like kaufen.

  • Ich kaufe mir die erste Staffel von Mad Men..
  • I buy the first season of Mad Men.
  • Ich lese mir die E-Mail durch.
  • I read the (whole) email.

They don’t really translate and they make it more “personal”. In the first example I could just replace myself with another person. So I can by myself something or I can buy you something. In the second example that wouldn’t work.

  • Ich lese dir ein Buch durch.

This is just wrong.
In case of ansehen, we’re dealing with the third… the meaning changes. And if we want to understand that it helps to think about an for a second. So far, it pretty much meant at in sense of toward. here, it still does but it is not so much my gaze that is directed…

  • Ich sehe dir etwas an.

it is kind of like this

  • I read something into you.

Only that in case of ansehen it is not an assumption… it is the truth I am seeing.

  • Ich sehe dir deine Sorgen an.
  • I can see that you’re worried, (no point denying)
  • Man sieht dir an, wie müde du bist.
  • One can see how tired you are.
  • Man sieht ihr ihr Alter gar nicht an.
  • She doesn’t look her age at all.
  • “Poah.. ich konnte die ganze Nacht nicht schlafen.”
    “Echt? Sieht man dir gar nicht an. Du siehst echt fit aus.”
  • “Boah… I couldn’t sleep all night.”
    “Really? Well it doesn’t show. You look really fit.”

If you want to be more specific you can add the feature that gives something away… guess which preposition you’d have to use… exactly… an.

  • Ich sehe dir an der Nasenspitze an, dass du lügst.
  • I can see it in your face (lit: by the tip of your nose) that you’re lying.

So let’s do a quick recap…

  • Ich sehe etwas an – I keep my gaze on something
  • Ich sehe mir etwas an – I check out/watch/”observe” something
  • Ich sehe dir etwas an – I can see/tell something by looking at you

And if this were TV you could see the mischief in my face now :)

crazy grammar fun

With three version that are so close, there sure must be potential to mess around… and boy oh boy there is. Specifically with the reflexive uses.
We’ve already seen that ansehen can be used with a self reference…

  • Ich sehe mir etwas an.

But that is not the only self reference we can use…

  • Ich sehe mich an.

So, what does that mean? Exactly… I look at myself … in the mirror for example. And could there also be this?

  • Ich sehe mich etwas an.

No, because the mich is one of the many possibilities you can insert instead of something. It has the same function.
Now, sometimes we might be looking at ourselves a little more thoroughly, or a little longer… like … at your latest selfie “Man, I would be looking SO COOL if it wasn’t for my stupid chin. And oh god what’s that on the forehead?? Is that a … a wrinkle?”Of course we could just say that we’re analyzing our selfie… but, at least in theory, we could also use ansehen… with two self references.

  • Ich sehe mir mich an.

The mich tells us what we’re looking at and the mir adds this thorough, observing touch. And although that sentence doesn’t sound very nice, it is poetry compared to the following…

  • Sie sieht sich sich an.
  • Sie looks at herself.

I bet you can really confuse people in your course with that sentence. Sure, it is awful German but on a purely technical level it is correct.
Now, how about this:

  • Ich sehe mir mein Alter nicht an.

This could actually be two things… the looking at version

  • I don’t look at my age.

That would make sense if, say, you have amnesia and you deliberately do not look at the age on your identification.
But the sentence could also be the third ansehen… so basically just like

  • Ich sehe dir mein Alter nicht an.

Just with myself instead of yo.. wait.. I think it should be dein Alter, shouldn’t it? I’m getting really confused here. I guess that was enough crazy grammar fun for today :/… I just thought it could be helpful to see the extremes.

All right. So…we’re almost done for today. Oh… maybe we should have a look at words that are related to ansehen real quick.

related words to “ansehen”

First of, there is die Ansicht which can mean inspection or view but I’d say the most important meaning is view as in opinions.

  • Er hat komische Ansichten.
  • He has strange views sometimes.
  • Meiner Ansicht nach macht das keinen Sinn.
  • In my view/IMO that doesn’t make sense.
  • “Süßes Popcorn ist besser als salziges.”
    “Das ist Ansichtssache”
  • “Sweet popcorn is better than salty one”
    “That’s a matter of opinion.”

As far as adjectives go, there is ansehnlich which literally would be “look at”-able, which is something short of beautiful, but outside the whole looks context it is also used to mean quite good.

  • Dein Essen ist lecker, aber es ist total unansehnlich.
  • Your food is tasty but it is no joy to look at/looks gross.
  • Thomas hat einen ansehnlichen Betrag im Lotto gewonnen.
  • Thomas has won a rather decent amount of money in the lottery.

Finally, there is the noun das Ansehen, which is the generic “nounified” verb the watching, but also a word for renown or reputation… in a positive way.

  • Er genießt bei seinen Kollegen großes Ansehen.
  • He is held in high esteem among his colleagues.
  • Sein Ansehen hat durch den Skandal sehr gelitten.
  • His reputation has suffered as a result of the scandal.

This Ansehen is kind of limited to certain phrasings though, so I’d suggest to put it on the passive pile.
And … I think… we’re done. Maybe one quick word about anschauen and angucken. Those two are colloquial and the use depends on the region. I, myself, for example would use angucken a lot and using ansehen for many examples felt quite unnatural to me and made me cringe a little. But for someone from the south of Germany angucken would be just as strange and he would much prefer anschauen. Ansehen is the standard though plus it is the only one that has the third meaning.

  • Ich gucke/schaue dir an, dass du traurig bist… nope…

I don’t even know if people would understand that. Oh and ansehen is also the only one that works in the following phrasing

  • Ich sehe das als Kompliment an.
  • I see that as a compliment.

So… with ansehen you’re on the safe side but if you want to blend in with the locals just use whatever they use.
And that’s it. That was our German Word of the Day ansehen. If you have any questions or suggestions about ansehen or if you want to try out some examples that everyone can ansehen then, just leave me a comment :)
I hope you liked it and see you next time.

Oh and just to warn you… the whole “watching a movie” thing is rather complex… gucken, sehen, ansehen, anschauen... when to use which depends on the region but also on the tense and the phrasing.

Further reading:

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Soufiane
Soufiane
7 months ago

Seriousely i can t pay

phoenix
phoenix
1 year ago

Another great one – thanks! So, if my wife comes home from a hair appointment, and I’ve been watching my daughter for a couple hours, and she is like “what did you guys do while I’ve been gone”, and I wanted to say “we watched Paw Patrol”…

“Wir haben uns Paw Patrol angesehen”

Does that sound right? Thanks!

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

Ja. Neues (Comment) für (the rest)

Teil 2)

1) Gibt es ein Unterwchied zweichen Anshict und Meinung?

2) Ich sehe dir mein Alter nicht an.

So this basically means I am educated and you are old?

3) what would look at sb in sth be. Eg.( I looked at him in amazement/anger)

Teil 3) kleines Beitrag

1) jdn. über die Achsel ansehen. (To look down on your nose) behaving as if sb is not good enough for you.

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago

Sehr interessanter Wort. Hier blide ich Sätzen

Teil 1) Sätzen

1) Ich sehe die Frau an, die gerade meine pizza essen und das macht mir Wütend.

1B) Kommt Tiere mit “sich ansehen” oder ohne “Sich”?

2) Ich sehe mir an,ob dein Zimmer aufgeraümt hat oder nicht.

3) wenn ich mir an sehe, wie du dir benimmst, Weiß ich,dass Hoffnung es keine Mehr gibt. Derzeit ist es unansehnlich.

4) Ich sehe dir an an,dass du begabt bist. I sehe dir deine
Zweifel an.

5) Diese Ansichten ruinieren dein Ansehen and das kann nur als die Wahrheit ansehen werden.

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

1b) I am asking whether animals (like humans) take “Sich ansehen” or to drop the “sich”

3) einen Hinweis bitte. Wo?

5) grammer?

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

1b) I meant when we look at animal

Ich sehe einen Hund an oder ich sehe mir einen Hund an. But the misunderstanding revealed sth interesting. Danke

3) Ah, I have been told before that after “dass” must come the subject. (Which I had in mind as another tendency (not an obligation). Looking at it “Hoffung” is not subject

5) Understand Sir.

Al
Al
4 years ago

You might want to revise your sentence “And that is used much more then the more than the version without the self reference.”

T R Naganathan
3 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ich bin Anfanger. Ist Duetsch sehr schwer ?

Stephen P
Stephen P
4 years ago

Hallo Emanuel. My question has to do with something I noticed in a previous post, the one about erst. In it, you used this sentence in an example:

Wollen wir eine DVD gucken?”

Why isn’t this reflexive or even angucken? I suppose that you don’t actually watch the DVD, but wouldn’t it imply that the action is reflexive?

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

So for movies and films, ansehen, but gucken. Why why german. Also, I have seen a sentence saying looking at Bilderbuch without the self reference. Is this relevant to your comment

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Die Mutter and ihr kind schauen zusammen ein Bildbuch an.

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Vielen Dank

Just to make sure

Film sich ansehen/sich anschauen/gucken

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Ist das für dieses Verb? Oder alle Verben, die kann “Sich” benutzen,aber es ist nicht ein Regal

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Wann funktioniert das Unterlassen von “Sich”.

Wir konzentrieren zusammen

Klappt das?

Turtles
Turtles
2 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Haben sie mehr Biespiel

Mario
Mario
5 years ago

Hallo Emanuel! Toller Beitrag, wie immer! Ich wollte mir diesen Unterschied seit lange klären, aber ich ging immer mit meiner Intuition und kümmerte mich darum nicht länger. Endlich habe ich heute eine Erklärung gesucht und dein Blog war da, um mich zu retten.
Ich habe jedoch einen Zweifel. Es stört mich mehr, als es sollte, dass du ‚ansehnlich‘ aus ‚ansehen‘ herkommen lässt. Kommt dieses wort nicht aus ‚sehnen/Sehne‘? Sonst sollt es, zumindest meiner Meinung nach, ansehlich‘ sein, oder?

Allan
Allan
5 years ago

Hi!

Love your blog, and greetings from NYC! I’m a grammar geek and I learn an immense amount from your posts and comments section that I wouldn’t anywhere else!

So, I’ve heard that you can say “ich sehe es mir sofort an”, meaning, “I’ll check it out right away”… Can you take the “mir” out and say instead “ich sehe es sofort an”?… My instinct is that you can’t, but perhaps it might mean something different?…

Danke!!!

John d'auria
John d'auria
6 years ago

your postings always [sehr ] toll

kvrdz
kvrdz
7 years ago

Hallo Emanuel. Kannst du bitte kurz erklären wie, gucken/schau/sehen zusammen in Verbindung mit der Präposition “auf” gebraucht wird ? Worin liegt der Unterschied zwischen, z. B Ich guck auf das Bild und Ich guck das bild an ?

Anonymous
Anonymous
7 years ago

Hallo Emanuel. Deinen Blog finde ich einfach toll! Ich habe nirgendwoanders eine so klare Erklärung über sehen/ansehen/sich ansehen gesehen. Ich bin schon ein paar Jahre lang in Deutschland und habe auch deutsche Freunde, die gut Englisch können, aber scheinbar haben sie das typische Muttersprachler-Symptom: sie können deutsche Grammatik nicht so sehr ausführlich erklären. Einfach weiter so!

Und auch, wenn in Zukunft eine Idee für ein geeignetes Wort fehlt, denk bitte mal dran, über die Vorsilbe “fest” zu schreiben. Die sieht man einfach überall und ist eigentlich nicht sehr einfach zu erfassen :)

Timmy
Timmy
7 years ago

Thanks for all your help!

I have learned so much from you. This is one of the best German learning tools out there!

Lil' Tim
Lil' Tim
7 years ago

Kick ass site, I used it a while ago…then forgot the name and didn’t bookmark -.- It deserves to be much higher up on the list when searching for German lessons. Please keep it rolling :)

Kind regards
Little Timmy

Bruno
Bruno
7 years ago

Wow, this post really helped me.
I’m from Brazil and this whole ansehen thing was driving me crazy.
Thanks!

David
8 years ago

Thanks for another nice piece. There’s also the famous German Mitbestimmung – worker’s participation in management, why German industry is so successful.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
8 years ago

Let me guess…
Lass mir raten oder lass mich raten?

Ahmad
Ahmad
8 years ago

Ich denke “lass mich raten” ist die richtige ausdrucke . Oder ?

john dailey
john dailey
8 years ago

how about sound and pronucation ? please advise thank you.

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
8 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

You can always use forvo.com:

http://www.forvo.com/word/ansehen/

Ahmad
Ahmad
8 years ago
Reply to  john dailey

Ich benutze ” Das Auusprache Wörterbuch” von Duden . Es ist in phonetische Lautschrift und über 130000 Wörtern mit Betonnung und Auusprache .
I use it from time to time .

Alex Hussak
Alex Hussak
8 years ago

Sehr interessanter Post

Ahmad
Ahmad
8 years ago

” wie dem auch sei “………………. konjunktif present
” wie dem auch sein mag” ………. Indikatif present
In beide ausdrüken ist ” wie” ist nicht ein Konjungtionswort aber ein adverb der Qualität .
– as big as = so gros wie…. oder ???

Ahmad
Ahmad
8 years ago
Reply to  German-is-easy

Danke schön Emmanuel für deine Korrekture .

Grateful Reader
Grateful Reader
8 years ago
Reply to  Ahmad

Korrekturen.

Ich weiß, die deutsche Pluralbildung ist sogar schlimmer als die deutsche Adjektivdeklination und die deutsche Verbkonjugation! ;)

Ahmad
Ahmad
8 years ago
Reply to  Ahmad

Vielen dank für deine Korreckturen!

Guilherme
Guilherme
8 years ago

Great as usual!

I wanted to ask a few things though. I was looking for a translation to “be that as it may” and found “wie dem auch sei” and “wie dem auch sein mag”. What’s the grammar behind that dative and the Konjunktiv. Also how do you say something like “as [adjective] as it may be…”

Ahmad
Ahmad
8 years ago

Thank you for your information . It is very instructif .