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A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that refers to another noun or pronoun (its antecedent) within the same sentence.

In the English language specifically, a reflexive pronoun will end in -self or -selves, and refer to a previously named noun or pronoun (myself, yourself, ourselves, themselves, etc.). English intensive pronouns, used for emphasis, take the same form.

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 have different binding domains for reflexive pronouns, according to their structure.

Origins and usage

In Indo-European languages, the reflexive pronoun has its origins in Proto-Indo-European. In some languages, some distinction exists between normal object and reflexive pronouns, 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 normally used when the object of a sentence is the same as the subject. Each personal pronoun (such as I, you, he and she) has its own reflexive form:

These pronouns can also be used intensively, to emphasize the identity of whoever or whatever is being talked about:

Intensive pronouns usually appear near and/or before the subject of the sentence.

Usually after prepositions of locality it is preferred to use a personal object pronoun rather than a reflexive pronoun:[2]


Certain verbs have reflexive pronouns in some languages but not in English:[3]

Compare to French:

The list of such verbs:

Non-reflexive usage in English

Non-reflexive use of reflexive pronouns is rather common in English. Most of the time, reflexive pronouns function as emphatic pronouns that highlight or emphasize the individuality or particularity of the noun. Grammatically, the position of reflexive pronouns in this usage is either right after the noun the pronouns are emphasizing or, if the noun is subject, after-verb-or-object position is also possible. For example, "Why don't you yourself do the job?", "Why don't you do the job yourself?", or "I want to fix my phone itself; I will not fix your watch as well."[4]

Some speakers 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, Anything else for yourself today?". (Note that me and you would be more concise in such instances.) Within the linguistics literature, reflexives with discourse antecedents are often referred to as logophors. Standard English allows 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.[5] 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.[6][7]

It is also common in informal speech to use myself in a conjunctive phrase when 'me' would suffice: "She stood by Jane and myself." Also myself is used when 'I' would be more appropriate; for example, Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying, "Hamilton and myself were daily pitted in the cabinet like two cocks."[8]

In languages other than English


In Mandarin Chinese, the reflexive pronoun is () (), meaning "self".[9] The antecedent it refers to 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:[9]

The reflexive can also be the subject of an embedded clause.

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.[10] This was also the case in Classical Chinese, which simply used [11] (Old Chinese: *kəʔ[12]).


Danish uses the separate reflexive pronoun sig for third person pronouns, and 'selv' to mark intensive.

In Danish, there is also a difference between normal and reflexive genitives, the latter being used only in the singular:

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).[citation needed]


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, similar in meaning (but not often used) to myself, yourself, etc.

French also uses reflexive verbs to express actions that somebody is doing to themselves. Many of these are related to daily routine. For example,


In German, the reflexive case is not distinguishable from the accusative and dative cases except in the third person reflexive.[13] 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 the first and second persons, it is clear: 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 nonstandard English.

Because the accusative and dative cases 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 memorised to ensure that the correct grammar is used. The most notable one is (sich) weh tun (to hurt oneself): Ich tue mir weh. (I hurt myself.) See also German pronouns.


In Hindi, there are two primary reflexive pronouns, the reflexive pronoun खुद (khud) [from PIE *swé] meaning "self" and pronoun अपना (apnā) [from PII *HáHtmā "self"] which is the possessive reflexive pronoun and both these pronouns are used with all the three, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, persons.[14] There is also the pronoun आपस (āpas) which is used with either the inessive case-marker में (mẽ) forming the reflexive pronoun आपस में (āpas mẽ) meaning "among ourselves" or the genitive postpostion का () forming the reflexing pronoun आपस का (āpas kā) meaning "of ourselves". The genitive reflexive pronoun can also be used to emphasise when used with the personal genitive pronouns, so e.g. मेरा (merā) "mine" becomes मेरा अपना (merā apnā) "my very own".[14] Alternatively, using the genitive postposition का () with खुद (khud) gives मेरे खुदका (mere khudkā) meaning the same as मेरा अपना (merā apnā). These reflexive pronouns can be used with case-marking postpositions as shown below in the table to the right.

Reflexive Pronouns Singular Plural Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine
Undeclinable Nominative


खुद (khud) — "self"

आपस (āpas) — "oneselves"

अपने आप (apne āp) — "by oneself", "automatically"



with noun
sans noun
Declinable Nominative










with noun अपने


sans noun अपने








Case Postpositional

case marker



Nominative खुद (khud) self
Ergative ने (ne) खुदने (khudne) self
Accusative को (ko) खुदको (khudko) self
Dative to self
Instrumental से (se) खुदसे (khudse) using, by, with self
Ablative from self
Genitive का () खुदका (khudkā) of self
Inessive में (mẽ) खुदमें (khudmẽ) in self
Adessive पे (pe) खुदपे (khudpe) on self
Terminative तक (tak) खुदतक (khudtak) until, till self
Semblative सा () खुदसा (khudsā) like self



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


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, stressing the reflexiveness much 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 'oneself'. 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 pronoun but it usually corresponds only to the first person (myself).


In the first and second persons, Latin uses the ordinary oblique forms of the personal pronouns as reflexive pronouns. In the third 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
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Accusative , sēsē
Genitive suī
Dative sibi
Ablative , sēsē
Locative , sēsē



Main article: Macedonian pronouns

Accusative Dative
Full Short Full Short
себе се себе си

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


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



Genitive siebie
Dative sobie
Accusative się, siebie
Instrumental sobą
Locative sobie

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 anti-causative voice:

Similarly, the dative sobie gained an additional, volitional/liberative meaning, usually used in informal speech:

Moreover, the phrase iść sobie has been lexicalized and means "to leave" (cf. French s'en aller):


Polish also has a possessive reflexive pronoun swój (swoja, swoje). It assumes the gender of the possessed object, not that of the possessor.

Not using a reflexive pronoun might indicate the other party's possession of the object:


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

Nominative sam m samo n sama f sami v pl same nv pl
Genitive samego samej samych
Dative samemu samej samym
Accusative samego, sam samo samą samych same
Instrumental samym samą samymi
Locative samym samej samych

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 by attaching the reflexive pronoun (me, te, se, nos - also vos) to the verb. The second way is by also attaching the words mesmo/a(s) or próprio/a(s), masc/fem. (plural) (="self"), immediately after the verb to add stress/intensity :



In Russian, the pronoun себя sebya universally means "oneself"/"myself"/"himself", etc. It is inflected depending on the case.[15]

When used to indicate that the person is the direct object of the verb, one uses the accusative form, sebya.[16] (It does not have a nominative form.)

Emphasized forms are "sam sebya" - masculine, "sama sebya" - feminine, "sami sebya" - plural. However, the word "sam" usually comes after the noun it is emphasizing.[17]

This sentence underlines that the subject inflicted the wounds while in the previous example, "sebya" merely indicates that the subject was wounded.

In addition, the reflexive pronoun sebya gave rise the reflexive affix -sya (-ся) used to generate reflexive verbs, but in this context the affix indicates that the action happened accidentally:[18]

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.[19]

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:[20]

Genitive sebe
Dative sebi/si
Accusative sebe/se
Instrumental sobom
Locative sebi

The words that modify the reflexive pronoun do show gender and number:[20]

The enclitic form of the reflexive pronoun, se, has been grammaticalized to a high degree:[20]


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"). They are not strictly adjuncts: sí mismo/a (instead of se), ti mismo/a (in the Río de la Plata region, it is replaced by vos mismo/a) but mi mismo: they usually postpend the genitive.

Examples with "wash oneself":

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


The Slovene language has reflexive pronouns as well:


In Uzbek, the pronoun o'zi (IPA: [ɜzɪ]), refers to oneself and, to create a person specific forms, it requires certain affixes:[21]

myself - o'zi + -mni => o'zimni (IPA: [ɜzɪmnɪ]); to myself - o'zi + -mga => o'zimga (IPA: [ɜzɪmgʌ]); from myself - o'zi + -mdan => o'zimdan (IPA: [ɜzɪmdʌn]);

yourself - o'zi + -ngni => o'zingni (IPA: [ɜzɪngnɪ]); to yourself - o'zi + -ngga => o'zingga (IPA: [ɜzɪngʌ]); from yourself - o'zi + -ngdan => o'zingdan (IPA: [ɜzɪngdʌn]);

himself/ herself/ itself - o'zi + -ni => o'zini (IPA: [ɜzɪnɪ]); to himself/ herself/ itself- o'zi + -ga => o'ziga (IPA: [ɜzɪgʌ]); from himself/ herself/ itself- o'zi + -dan => o'zidan (IPA: [ɜzɪdʌn]);

ourselves - o'zi + -mizni => o'zimizni (IPA: [ɜzɪmɪznɪ]); to ourselves- o'zi + -mizga => o'zimizga (IPA: [ɜzɪmɪzgʌ]); from ourselves - o'zi + -mizdan => o'zimizdan (IPA: [ɜzɪmɪzdʌn]);

yourselves - o'zi + -ngizni => o'zingizni (IPA: [ɜzɪngɪznɪ]); to yourselves - o'zi + -ngizga => o'zingizga (IPA: [ɜzɪngɪzgʌ]); from yourselves - o'zi + -ngizdan => o'zingizdan (IPA: [ɜzɪngɪzdʌn]);

themselves - o'z + -larini => o'zlarini (IPA: [ɜzlʌrɪnɪ]); to themselves- o'z + -lariga => o'zlariga (IPA: [ɜzɪlʌrɪgʌ]); from themselves- o'z + -laridan => o'zilaridan (IPA: [ɜzɪlʌrɪdʌn]);

Emphatic-pronoun use:

myself - o'zi + -m => o'zim (IPA: [ɜzɪm])

yourself - o'zi + -ng => o'zing (IPA: [ɜzɪng])

himself/ herself/ itself - o'zi + - => o'zi (IPA: [ɜzɪ])

ourselves - o'zi + -miz => o'zimiz (IPA: [ɜzɪmɪz])

yourselves - o'zi + -ngiz => o'zingiz (IPA: [ɜzɪngɪz])

themselves - o'z + -lari => o'zlari (IPA: [ɜzlʌrɪ])

Basically, the suffixes change based on the preposition used:[21]


In Vietnamese, the reflexive pronoun is mình whose meaning can be myself, herself, himself, themselves etc. depending on the number/gender of its antecedent.

Guugu Yimithirr

An Austronesian Pama–Nyungan language, Guugu Yimithirr uses the suffix /-gu/ on pronouns—much like -self in English, to emphasize that the action of the verb is performed by the subject and not someone else. Take for example, the following exchange.








Ngadhu gudaa gunda-la!


Hit my dog!






Nyundu-ugu gunda-la!


Hit it yourself!


See also




  1. ^ Carnie, Andrew (2013). Syntax: A Generative Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell.
  2. ^ Martinet and Thomson, Agnes and Audrey (1986). A Practical English Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 55. ISBN 0-19-431347-6.
  3. ^ Hewings, Martin (1999). Advanced Grammar in Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 152. ISBN 0-521-49868-6.
  4. ^ Michael, Swan (2005). Swan third edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 476–477. ISBN 9780194420983.
  5. ^ Pollard, Carl & Ivan Sag (1992). "Anaphors in English and the Scope of the Binding Theory". Linguistic Inquiry (23): 261–303.
  6. ^ Old English#Charter of Cnut
  7. ^ "Grammar in early modern English - Oxford English Dictionary". 16 August 2012. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  8. ^ Lynne Cheney (2020). The Virginia Dynasty. United States: Viking. p. 123. ISBN 9781101980040.
  9. ^ a b Yip, Po-Ching; Rimmington, Don (2004). Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. pp. 56–7. ISBN 0-415-15032-9.
  10. ^ Matthews, Stephen; Yip, Virginia (1994). Cantonese: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. pp. 84–7. ISBN 0-415-08945-X.
  11. ^ Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (1995). Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. UBC Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-7748-0541-2.
  12. ^ Schuessler, Axel (2007). "jǐ2 己". ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2975-9.
  13. ^ "German Grammar: Reflexive Pronouns & Verbs". Archived from the original on November 17, 2011.
  14. ^ a b Snell, Rupert; Weightman, Simon (1989). Teach Yourself Hindi (2003 ed.). McGraw-Hill. pp. 79–80. ISBN 978-0-07-142012-9.
  15. ^ Naumanova, Irina (2014). Морфология простым языком. Moscow. p. 111.
  16. ^ Naumanova, Irina (2014). Морфология простым языком. Moscow: Unknown. p. 98.
  17. ^ Naumanova, Irina (2014). Морфология простым языком. Moscow: Unknown. p. 121.
  18. ^ Naumanova, Irina (2014). Морфология простым языком. Moscow: Unknown. p. 175.
  19. ^ Naumanova, Irina (2014). Морфология простым языком. Moscow: Unknown. pp. 82–83.
  20. ^ 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. CROSBI 426503. Contents. Summary. [Grammar book].
  21. ^ a b MAHMUDOV, NURMONOV, SOBIROV, NABIYEVA, MIRZAAHMEDOV, NIZOMIDDIN, ABDUHAMID, ABDULHAY, DILDORA, MIRODIL (2017). Ona Tili - 7-SINF. Tashkent: Ministry of Public Education of the Republic of Uzbekistan. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-9943-04-324-4.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Handbook of Australian languages. Vol. 1. Dixon, Robert Malcolm Ward., Blake, Barry J. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 1979. p. 122. ISBN 978-90-272-7355-0. OCLC 793207750.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)