Reflexive pronoun

Reflexive pronoun

A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that is preceded by the noun or pronoun to which it refers (its antecedent) within the same clause. In generative grammar, a reflexive pronoun is an anaphor that must be bound by its antecedent (see binding). In some languages, there is a difference between reflexive and non-reflexive pronouns; but the exact conditions that determine whether something is bound are not yet well defined and depend on the language in question.

In English, the reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, thyself, himself (in some dialects, "hisself"), herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves (in some dialects, "theirselves"). In the statements "I see him" and "She sees you", the objects are not the same persons as the subjects, and regular pronouns are used. However, when the person being seen is the same as the person who is seeing, the reflexive pronoun is used: "I see myself" or "She sees herself".

Origins and usage

In Indo-European languages, the reflexive pronoun has its origins in Proto-Indo-European. In some languages, the distinction between the normal objective and the reflexive pronouns exists mainly in the third person: whether one says "I like me" or "I like myself", there is no question that the object is the same person as the subject; but, in "They like them(selves)", there can be uncertainty about the identity of the object unless a distinction exists between the reflexive and the nonreflexive. In some languages, this distinction includes genitive forms: see, for instance, the Swedish examples below.

In languages with a distinct reflexive pronoun form, it is often gender-neutral.

Non-standard usage in English (Common Mistakes)

Sometimes, the reflexive pronoun is added to highlight its antecedent. A reflexive pronoun used in this appositive way is called an intensive pronoun and, in English, is accepted as standard: for example, "I, myself, wrote this" and "We, ourselves gave the card to our parents."

It is increasingly common to use reflexive pronouns without local linguistic antecedents to refer to discourse participants or people already referenced in a discourse: for example, "Please, forward the information to myself". Such formulations are usually considered non-standard. Within the linguistics literature, reflexives with discourse antecedents are often referred to as "logophors". Standard English does allow the use of logophors in some contexts: for example, "John was angry. Embarrassing pictures of himself were on display". However, within Standard English, this logophoric use of reflexives is generally limited to positions where the reflexive does not have a coargument. The newer non-standard usage does not respect this limitation. In some cases, reflexives without local antecedents may be better analyzed as emphatic pronouns without any true reflexive sense.

It is common in some subsets of the English-speaking population to use standard objective pronouns to express reflexive relations, especially in the first and sometimes second persons, and especially for a recipient: for example, "I want to get me some supper." This usage is non-standard.

Reflexive pronouns in languages other than English

Danish examples

  • Jeg beskytter ham. (I protect him.)
  • Han beskytter ham. (He protects him. Him designates a person other than the one designated by He.)
  • Han beskytter sig (selv). (He protects himself.)

In Danish, there is also a difference between normal and reflexive genetives:

  • Anna gav Maria hendes bog. (Anna gave her [Maria's] book to Maria.)
  • Anna gav Maria sin bog. (Anna gave her [Anna's] book to Maria.)

Esperanto examples

The Esperanto reflexive pronoun is si, or sia for the possessive (to which can be added -j for plural agreement and -n for direct object).

  • Li legas liajn librojn. (He reads his (someone else's) books.)
  • Li legas siajn librojn. (He reads his (own) books.)
  • Ŝi legas siajn librojn. (She reads her (own) books.)
  • Ili legas siajn librojn. (They read their (own) books.)
  • Li amas lin. (He loves him (someone else).)
  • Li amas sin. (He loves himself.)
  • Li rimarkis ŝian amon al si. (He noticed her love for herself (reflexive).)
  • Li rimarkis ŝian amon al li. (He noticed her love for him (using a normal pronoun).)
  • Li rimarkis sian amon al si. (He noticed his (own, reflexive) love for himself (reflexive).)
  • Li rimarkis sian amon al li. (He noticed his (own, reflexive) love for him (someone else, not reflexive).)
  • Li diras, ke la hundo lavas sian vizaĝon. (He says that the dog is washing its (the dog's) face.)
  • Li diras, ke la hundo lavas lian vizaĝon. (He says that the dog is washing his (the speaker's or someone else's, but not the dog's) face.)

French examples

In French, moi-même, toi-même, lui-même/elle-même/soi-même, nous-mêmes, vous-mêmes and eux-mêmes/elles-mêmes. However Canadian French use nous-autres and vous-autres respectively.

In Icelandic

There is only one reflexive pronoun in Icelandic and that is the word en:sig#Icelandic. It does not differ between genders nor number.

The reflexive pronouns are as such:

Singular and plural
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative (hann/hún/það/þeir/þær/þau) ("he/she/it/they")
Accusative sig
Dative sér
Genitive sín

Examples

The reflexive pronoun refers to the third person:

  • Hann talar um sig. (masc. sing.) (He talks about himself)
  • Þeir tala um sig. (masc. plur.) (They talk about themselves)
  • Stúlkan flýtti sér heim. (fem. sing.) (the girl hurried [herself] home)
  • Þær flýttu sér heim. (neut. plur.) (they [the girls] hurried [themselves] home)
  • Barnið naut sín. (neut. sing.) (the child enjoyed itself)
  • Börnin nutu sín. (neut. plur.) (the children enjoyed themselves)

In Latin

There only exists one reflexive pronoun in Latin, and that is the word se. It is declined in all cases except nominative and vocative.

Singular or Plural
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative (is/ea/id/eī/iī/eae/ea)
Vocative (is/ea/id/eī/iī/eae/ea)
Accusative , sēsē
Genitive suī
Dative sibi
Ablative , sēsē
Locative , sēsē

Example

Novial examples

(Novial is a constructed language, mostly based on Romance languages.)

  • Lo vida lo. (He sees him.)
  • Lo vida se. (He sees himself.)
  • Anna donad lan libre a Maria. (Anna gave her [Maria's] book to Maria.)
  • Anna donad sen libre a Maria. (Anna gave her [Anna's] book to Maria.)

Portuguese examples

  • Quando ele o vir. (When he sees him.)
  • Quando ele se vir. (When he sees himself.)

Russian examples

  • Он любит свою жену. On ljubit svoju ženu. (He loves his wife (his own).)
  • Он любит его жену. On ljubit jego ženu (He loves his wife (someone else's).)

Serbian examples

  • Ana je dala Mariji njenu knjigu. (Ana gave her [Maria's] book to Maria.)
  • Ana je dala Mariji svoju knjigu. (Ana gave her [Ana's] book to Maria.)

Spanish examples

  • Él lo ve. (He sees him.)
  • Él se ve. (He sees himself.)

Swedish examples

  • Jag ser honom. (I see him.)
  • Han ser honom. (He sees him. Him designates a person other than the one designated by He.)
  • Han ser sig [själv]. (He sees himself.)

In Swedish, there is also a difference between normal and reflexive genitives:

  • Anna gav Maria hennes bok. (Anna gave her [Maria's] book to Maria.)
  • Anna gav Maria sin bok. (Anna gave her [Anna's] book to Maria.)

See also

References

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