|Home/Index of Chapters||
Distinguishing between English -self forms lies at the heart of this chapter, e.g. Cicero himself praised himself. Note that, in the sentence just cited, the first himself intensifies Cicero ["Cicero—not his wife, not his daughter, not his press secretary—but Cicero himself praised . . ."] and the second himself reflects the action of the verb back on the subject [i.e. Cicero's praise is being brought back on himself.]. Understanding this difference is prerequisite to learning the Latin forms discussed in this chapter.
Reflexive forms "reflect" the action of the verb back onto the subject. Here, Latin is simpler to understand—and, arguably, more logical!—than English. For instance, English-speakers must say, "I praise myself," since "I praise me" is looked down on even though it is not illogical and the meaning is clear. The same is true for "You praised you"—sensible as it is, it's simply not done in good English. Because in all but the most sinister circumstances the identity of "I/me" and "you" is no secret, a special reflexive form is not really necessary for first and second persons (singular and plural), but in the third person, where "he/him" or "they/them" is not always easily determined from context—"He praised him" could mean "He praised himself" or "He praised someone else"—a reflexive form represents an important distinction.
Latin makes this distinction only where it's necessary (in the third person) and, where it's not necessary (in the first and second person), it doesn't. That is, Latin says, "I praise me (who is myself, of course)" and "You praise you (who is yourself, naturally)"—and also in the plural, "We praised us" and "Y'all praised y'all"—but distinguishes between "He praises him (someone else)" and "He praises himself (the subject)." Therefore, the Latin reflexive forms in the first and second persons (singular and plural) are identical with the personal pronouns, and in the third person (singular and plural) they aren't. Note also that Latin uses the same forms of the reflexive pronoun in the singular and plural of the third person (sui, sibi, se, se), because it's obvious from context whether the subject is singular or plural. It's all very logical and, as such, typically Roman.
Of course, since reflexive pronouns reflect the subject, they can't serve as subjects themselves—"Yourselves did it" makes no sense!—and so reflexive pronouns manifest no nominative forms. Thus, the Latin third-person reflexive forms begin in the genitive: sui (gen.), sibi (dat.), se (acc.), se (abl.)—they sound like the speaker's calling the pigs home and, if that helps you memorize the forms, use it!—in any case, there's not much to memorize. Note also that, when se is the object of the preposition cum, the normal order of preposition and object are reversed and the words are written as one: secum (cf. mecum, tecum, nobiscum, vobiscum).
Quite a mouthful for something so simple as "my own," the reflexive possessive adjectives in Latin work in much the same way as reflexive pronouns. They "reflect" the subject and thus must match it in person and number. The first and second person forms (singular and plural) are identical to their personal possessive counterparts (meus, tuus, noster, vester). The third-person forms (singular and plural) differ from the personal possessive forms, suus, -a, -um versus eius/eorum/earum, respectively. They cover the difference between "He has his (someone else's) book" (= eius) and "He has his (own) book" (= suum).
Because reflexive possessive adjectives can refer to the subject of a previous clause or sentence, they can be nominative, unlike their pronominal reflexive counterparts, e.g. "He was a mean old man, and when he died, his (own) wife and dog danced a jig." Note that the reflexive possessive adjective must agree in gender with its referent, not the subject. For example, in the sentence above, the reflexives would be "sua (femina)" and, assuming the dog is male, "suus (canis)."
Intensive pronouns constitute the non-reflexive use of -self forms in English, those which show that the form to which the -self word is attached did something "on its/their own." One way to distinguish intensives from reflexives is that, whereas reflexive pronouns in English tend to have a verb between the pronoun and its referent (the subject), English intensives tend to follow closely behind the word to which they refer (e.g. the teacher himself, the coffin itself, the vampires themselves). In reality, however, things are rarely ever that easy. Intensives in English can and often do come at the end of a sentence, e.g. "He learned Latin himself." Himself in this sentence obviously does not apply to Latin—if so, it would be itself—rather, it's an intensive pronoun going with the subject ("He learned Latin and did not hire someone to translate it for him."). So, before rendering an English -self form in Latin, you must always ask yourself how it's functioning in a sentence: "Is it reflecting action back on the subject (if so, it's a reflexive), or is it saying that someone is doing something for himself, that is, with his own hands (if so, it's an intensive)?"
Click here for a worksheet on reflexive and intensive pronouns.
Cicero: The name belongs to the third declension and is derived from the Latin word for "chick-pea, garbanzo bean."
ante: Takes an accusative object. It can carry either a temporal sense ("before") or a locative sense ("in front of").
numquam: = ne ("not") + umquam ("even"). Learn umquam ("ever") along with numquam.
per: Takes an accusative object.
diligo: = dis- + lego, literally "to choose apart." It's a nice way to express one's admiration and love for someone by saying that person is the one you "choose apart from all the rest."
Practice and Review
6. per se is idiomatic for "in and of oneself." Per se is used per se in English today.
13. Note that secum, not cum se, is the proper Latin form.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.