Reflexive Pronouns

Look in the mirror and what do you see? There are two answers to that question: your reflection and yourself. That is what reflexive pronouns are all about. Whenever something in a sentence refers back to the subject of the sentence, you need a reflexive pronoun. Unlike English, which uses a “-self” word, Latin just uses the regular personal pronouns.

videī.(I see you.)

videī.(I see myself.)

Notice how Latin simply seems to say “I see me”? The reflexive pronouns in Latin — for the first and second person anyway — are identical to the personal pronouns. For the third person, however, as with the personal pronouns, something else is the case.

There are no nominative forms for the reflexive pronoun. The nominative case shows the subject and reflexives refer back to the subject. The subject can't help but refer to itself … it is itself!

There is a distinct form for third person reflexive pronouns. It has no nominative form, since the subject already is itself!

Table 13-7 The Third Person Reflexive Pronoun

Nominative

Genitive

suī

Dative

sibi

Accusative

Ablative

Marcus pecuniam sibi retinuit. (Mark kept the money for himself.) Illī pecuniam sibi retinuē runt. (Those guys kept the money for themselves.)

The difference in form between personal and reflexive pronouns for the third person can clear potential confusion in some instances where English can be vague, especially when possession is involved. As with personal pronouns, the genitive is never used to show possession. Instead there is a possessive adjective: suus, -a, -um. This adjective is good for both third person singular and plural. The genitive for hic, iste, ille, and is, on the other hand, can show possession.

Caesar copiā s suā s sit ut oppidum defenderent. (Caesar sent his troops to defend the town [referring to Caesar's own troops].)

Caesar copiā s eius sit ut oppidum defenderent. (Caesar sent his troops to defend the town [referring to the troops of someone else].)

In the first example, the reflexive possessive adjective makes it clear that the subject of the clause is being referred to. In the second example, someone other than the subject is being referred to. Since eius is the genitive of the pronoun is, the reference must be to some other person, whom the context — if the example had one — would reveal.

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