Reflexive pronoun

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A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that is preceded or followed by the noun, adjective, adverb 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 a general sense, it is a noun phrase that obligatorily gets its meaning from another noun phrase in the sentence.[1] Different languages will have different binding domains for reflexive pronouns, according to their structure.

In English, the function of a reflexive pronoun is among the meanings of the words myself, yourself, thyself (archaic), himself (in some dialects, "hisself"), herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, ourself (as majestic plural), yourselves, themself, 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 non-reflexive 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[edit]

In Indo-European languages, the reflexive pronoun has its origins in Proto-Indo-European. In some languages, the distinction between the normal object and 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 Danish examples below. In languages with a distinct reflexive pronoun form, it is often gender-neutral.

A reflexive pronoun is a special kind of pronoun that is usually used when the object of a sentence is the same as the subject. Each personal pronoun (such as "I", "you" and "she") has its own reflexive form:

Non-reflexive usage in English[edit]

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 and incorrect. These can often be found in writing where the author has tried to formulate a more professional looking text without a true understanding of the language they are using. 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.[2] 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 dialects of English to use standard object 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." While this was seemingly standard in Old English through the Early Modern Period (with "self" constructs primarily used for emphatic purposes), it is held to be dialectal or nonstandard in Modern English.[3][4]

Reflexive pronouns in languages other than English[edit]


In Mandarin Chinese, the reflexive pronoun is zìjǐ (自己), meaning "self".[5] The antecedent to which it refers can be inferred by context, which is generally the subject of the sentence:

The antecedent can be reiterated before the reflexive pronoun; this can be used to refer to an antecedent that's not the subject:

Like English, the reflexive can also be used to emphasize the antecedent:[5]

The reflexive can also be the subject of an embedded clause, unlike English, which must use the non-reflexive form:

Also unlike English, the reflexive can refer to antecedents outside of the embedded clause. Because of this, it may be ambiguous whether the antecedent refers to the subject of the main clause or the embedded clause, in which case it may be necessary to reiterate the antecedent:

The reflexive pronoun in Cantonese Chinese, jihgéi, cognate to Mandarin zìjǐ (and thus also written as 自己), also follows the same rules.[6] This was also the case in Classical Chinese, which simply used 己[7] (Old Chinese: *kəʔ[8]).


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

In the latter case, "sin" is a case of a reflexive possessive pronoun, i.e. it reflects that the subject in the phrase (Anna) owns the object (the book).


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


In French, the main reflexive pronoun is 'se', with its indefinite form soi.

There are also intensifying reflexive pronouns, such as moi-même, toi-même, lui-même/elle-même/soi-même, nous-mêmes, vous-mêmes and eux-mêmes/elles-mêmes, exactly similar in meaning (but not in use) to myself, yourself….


In German, the reflexive case is only distinguishable from accusative and dative case in the third person reflexive.[9] As discussed above, the reflexive case is most useful when handling third person, because it is not always clear that pronouns refer to the same person, whereas in first and second person, this is clear. (E.g. He hit him and he hit himself have different meanings, but I hit me and I hit myself mean the same thing, although the former is improper English.)

Because accusative and dative case are different, the speaker must know whether the verb is reflexive accusative or reflexive dative. There are very few reflexive dative verbs, which must be memorized to ensure correct grammar is used. The most notable of which is (sich) weh tun—to hurt oneself. Ich tue mir weh. (I hurt myself.) See also German pronouns



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

The reflexive pronouns are as such:

Singular and plural
Nominative(hann/hún/það/þeir/þær/þau) ("he/she/it/they")


The reflexive pronoun refers to the third person:


The reflexive pronouns in Italian are:

Reflexive pronouns are usually employed when the direct object in a sentence is also its subject, thus reflecting the action as expressed in the verb on the subject itself.

This pronoun allows the building of three kinds of reflexive verbal forms: proper, non-proper (or ostensible), and reciprocal.

Notice that the sentence I wash myself could also be translated in Italian as "io lavo me stesso", that stresses the reflexiveness way more than English.

The complete list of intensifying reflexive pronouns is:


In the Japanese language, jibun 自分 and jibunjishin 自分自身 are reflexive pronouns that correspond roughly to 'herself' and 'himself'. They differ from English in some ways; for example, jibun and jibunjishin do not have to agree in gender or number where English reflexives do. Jibun can further be bound locally or long distance where English reflexives must always occur locally. Although both English and Japanese pronouns must be c-commanded by their antecedents, because of the syntactic structure of Japanese, long distance binding is allowed.


In Korean, jagi 자기(自己) and jasin 자신(自身) are used as reflexive pronouns that refer to 'myself', 'himself', 'herself', and 'ourselves'. Jagijasin 자기자신(自己自身) is also a reflexive pronun but it usually corresponds only to the first person (myself).


In the 1st and 2nd person, Latin uses the ordinary oblique forms of the personal pronouns as reflexive pronouns. In the 3rd person, Latin uses the special reflexive pronoun se, which is the same for all genders and numbers, and declined in all cases except the nominative and the vocative.

Singular or Plural
Accusative, sēsē
Ablative, sēsē
Locative, sēsē



Main article: Macedonian pronouns

An alternative full form, себеси, is used for emphasis.


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


A.się, siebie

In Polish the oblique reflexive pronouns is się and it declines as above. It is used with 1st, 2nd and 3rd person:

It has been grammaticalized to a high degree, becoming also a marker of medial and/or anticausative voice:

Similarly the dative sobie gained an additional, volitional/liberative meaning:

The intensive meaning is done by the pronoun sam (inflecting for case, gender and number):

N.sam msamo nsama fsami v plsame nv pl
A.samego, samsamosamąsamychsame

Usually inflected się is added in obliques:

Emphatically the accusative can be replaced with dative:


There are two ways to make a reflexive sentence in Portuguese. The first way is adding the reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nos - also vos). The second form is used to stress the reflexive action, especially when using the words "mesmo(s)" or "próprio(s)", masculine (plural), "mesma(s)" or "própria(s)", feminine (plural), which mean "self":



The pronoun sebya universally means "oneself"/"myself"/"himself", etc. It is inflected depending on the case.

When used to indicate that the person is the direct object of the verb, one uses the accusative form, sebya. (It does not have a nominative form.)

Emphasized forms are "sam sebya" - masculine, "sama sebya" - feminine, "sami sebya" - plural.

In addition, the reflective pronoun sebya gave rise the reflective affix -sya (-ся) used to generate reflexive verbs:

There are certain stylistic differences between the three usages, despite being rendered in the same way in English.

When the person is not a direct object of the verb, other cases are used:


Russian has a reflexive possessive as well.

Because of the existence of reflexive forms, the use of a non-reflexive pronoun indicates a subject that is different from the object. If it is impossible, the sentence is invalid or at least irregular:


Serbo-Croatian uses the reflexive pronoun sebe/se, which is the same for all persons, numbers and genders, and declined as follows:[10]


The words that modify the reflexive pronoun do show gender and number:[10]

The enclitic form of the reflexive pronoun, se, has been grammaticalized to a high degree:[10]


In Spanish, the reflexive pronouns are: me/nos (first person singular/plural), te/os (second person) or se (third person). In Latin America, "os" is not used, being replaced by "se" for the pronoun "ustedes". For clarity, there are optional intensifying adjuncts for reflexive pronouns, accompanied by "mismo/a" (masculine and feminine forms for "self"). These are not strictly adjuncts: "si mismo/a" (instead of "se"), "ti mismo/a" (in the Silver River region, it is replaced by "vos mismo/a"), but "mi mismo" — that is, they usually postpend the genitive.

Examples with "wash oneself":

Note that the indirect object "le"/"les" do not override "se" in the reflexive.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carnie, Andrew (2013). Syntax: A Generative Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell. 
  2. ^ Pollard, Carl & Ivan Sag (1992). "Anaphors in English and the Scope of the Binding Theory". Linguistic Inquiry (23): 261–303. 
  3. ^ Old English#Charter of Cnut
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Yip, Po-Ching; Rimmington, Don (2004). Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. pp. 56–7. ISBN 0-415-15032-9. 
  6. ^ Matthews, Stephen; Yip, Virginia (1994). Cantonese: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. pp. 84–7. ISBN 0-415-08945-X. 
  7. ^ Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (1995). Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. UBC Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-7748-0541-2. 
  8. ^ Schuessler, Axel (2007). "jǐ2 己". ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2975-9. 
  9. ^[dead link]
  10. ^ a b c Kordić, Snježana (2006) [1st pub. 1997]. Serbo-Croatian. Languages of the World/Materials ; 148. Munich & Newcastle: Lincom Europa. p. 23. ISBN 3-89586-161-8. OCLC 37959860. OL 2863538W.  Contents. Summary. [Grammar book].