Reflexive verb

Reflexive verb

In grammar, a reflexive verb is a verb whose semantic agent and patient (typically represented syntactically by the subject and the direct object) are the same. For example, the English verb "to perjure" is reflexive, since one can only perjure "oneself". In a wider sense, it refers to any verb form whose grammatical object is a reflexive pronoun, regardless of semantics; such verbs are also referred to as pronominal verbs, especially in grammars of the Romance languages.

There are languages that have explicit morphology to transform a verb into a reflexive form. English employs reflexive derivation idiosyncratically, as in "self-destruct"; Romance languages do the same with the Greek-derived prefix "auto-".

In many languages, reflexive constructions are rendered by transitive verbs followed by a reflexive pronoun, as in English "-self" (e.g., "She "threw herself" to the floor.")

Indo-European languages

Romance and Slavic languages make extensive use of reflexive verbs and reflexive forms.

In the Romance languages, there are non-emphatic clitic reflexive pronouns and emphatic ones. In Spanish, for example, the particle "se" is cliticized to the verb ("lavarse" "to wash oneself"), while in Romanian, the particle precedes the verb ("a se spăla" "to wash oneself"). Full reflexive pronouns or pronominal phrases are added for emphasis or to avoid ambiguity: "Yo me cuido a mí mismo" "I take care of myself" ("mismo" combines with the prepositional form of the pronoun "mí" to form an intensive reflexive pronoun).

The enclitic reflexive pronoun "sa"/"se"/"si"/"się" is used in Western and South Slavic languages, while Eastern Slavic languages use the suffix -"sja" (-ся). There is also the non-clitic emphatic pronoun "sebe"/"себя", used to emphasize the reflexive nature of the act; it is applicable only to "true" reflexive verbs, where the agent performs a (transitive) action on itself.

The Slavic languages use the same reflexive pronoun for all persons and numbers, while the Romance (and Germanic) languages use different forms. In the 1st and 2nd person, the ordinary oblique forms of the personal pronouns are used as reflexive pronouns, while special reflexive forms in "s-" are found only in the 3rd person. This is illustrated in the following table for the verb "to recall" (e.g. "Je me souviens" means "I recall", "Tu te souviens" means "You recall", and so on).

In modern Scandinavian languages, the passive (or more properly mediopassive) voice is used for medial, especially reciprocal, constructions. Some examples from Danish are,

:"Maria og Peter skændes"; "Mary and Peter are bickering", lit. "Mary and Peter are scolded by each other."

:"Maria og Peter blev forlovet"; "Mary and Peter got engaged [to each other] ."

(The hypothetical form **kysses (kiss each other) is not often -- if ever -- seen in Danish; however it'll probably be understood by most native speakers, indicating that the mediopassive voice is still at the very least potentially productive in Danish. An expression like "de kysses uafladeligt" (they kiss each other all the time) could very well be used for humorous purposes).


"Autocausative" reflexive denotes that the (usually animate) "referent represented by the subject combines the activity of actor and undergoes a change of state as a patient":

In many cases, there is a semantic overlap between impersonal/anticausative/autocausative constructs and the passive voice (also present in all Romance and Slavic languages). On one hand, impersonal reflexive constructs have a wider scope of application, as they are not limited to transitive verbs like the canonical passive voice. On the other hand, those constructs can have slight semantic difference or markedness.


"Inherent" or "pronominal" ("inherently" or "essentially") reflexive verbs lack the corresponding non-reflexive from which they can be synchronically derived. In other words, "se" is an inherent part of an unergative reflexive or reciprocal verb with no meaning of its own, and an obligatory part of the verb's lexical entry" [cite journal|title=Alternating unaccusative verbs in Slovene|first=Sabina|last=Grahek| journal=Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics|url=|pages=57–72|volume=9|year=2002] :

: (a) The corresponding verb is not reflexive.: (b) The verb is reflexive, but not inherently; the transitive equivalent means "to separate". Note the reciprocal semantics.: (c) Only the Spanish "quejarse" exists only in reflexive form; however, in other languages, the corresponding non-reflexive verb has a different meaning, like "lament" or "mourn".

See also

* Deponent verb
* Reciprocal (grammar)
* Reciprocal pronoun
* Reflexive pronoun
* Passive voice


External links

*cite web|url=|title=Changing valency: Case studies in transitivity|author=R. M. W. Dixon & A. Y. Aikhenvald (eds) |publisher=Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University, Melbourne

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