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Reflexive or reciprocal pronouns
Today, we'll tackle a problem leading to frequent confusions when foreign learners speak and write:
What's the difference between "reflexive pronouns" and reciprocal ones "?
- « Oh dear! What on earth do you mean? », students will ask... Alright! Let's stop uttering what they call « mysterious words» and let's see calmly...
I) REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS: They're easy ones!...
Imagine you're standing in front of a mirror: you're looking at yourself... You can see yourself, that is "the reflection of a person".
1. Reflexive pronouns: often correspond, in your minds, to « me »,« you », « him/ her/ it », « us » « them »,« everybody ».
- He looked at himself in the mirror; (Here, there's only one person, but two figures, a reflection, and an individual.
and not * He looked at him in the mirror. (Here, there would be two different people (two males – let's say Tom and Tim): one of them was looking at the reflection of the other.
The universality of « everyone » is expressed by « one=> oneself» (as we can find in the definitions of dictionaries ).
2. Reflexive pronouns: I look at myself in the mirror.
|I||look at||MYSELF||in the mirror.|
|You (singular)||look at||YOURSELF||in the mirror.|
|He||looks at||HIMSELF||in the mirror.|
|She||looks at||HERSELF||in the mirror.|
|The dog (It)||looks at||ITSELF||in the mirror|
|We||look at||OURSELVES||in the mirror|
|You (plural)||look at||YOURSELVES||in the mirror|
|They||look at||THEMSELVES||in the mirror|
3. They also correspond to myself, yourself, him/ herself, ourselves, yourself/ yourselves, themselves, meaning "with nobody's help".
- Lucy, you're old enough to do this yourself! I won't do it for you.
4. « By myself/ yourself/ himself ... » = alone, isolated.
- I stayed by myself for 3 weeks ... It seemed quite long...
5. A few expressions or idioms:
- Help yourself! = Serve yourself, take a portion of...
- Behave yourself = Be a good boy, or girl!
- Make yourself at home! = make yourself comfortable!
- Please yourself! = Do what you like!
II) RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS ( "She's doing it again!" ) : involve several different persons , both inter-acting between two (or more) groups.
1. 1. EACH OTHER and ONE ANOTHER :
Here, I'll speak to you about a not-so distant past...
Well, well! in that time, and even quite long after, there used to be a difference between « each other » (representing only two people) and « one another » (where a whole group of people were acting).
Nowadays, when (almost) everything is allowed, the two expressions are supposed to be equivalent (even for Oxford/ Cambridge dictionaries/ and ... the last edition of my favourite grammar book). Every one of them gives examples perfectly respecting the initial rules, but clearly proclaim that both expressions are commonly heard, without any distinction of number of actors, and do so legitimately in any case.
Consequently, though I was taught and taught students "Queen's English!" (= « no need to be more Catholic than the Pope »)... I'll comply with the reality principle of our time. I tell my own students to know the original rules and then adapt to the different situations they meet. I do it too. In this lesson, I'll remain a purist and I'll give you the freedom to be one, or not.
- - He and I looked at each other and admitted that we had loved each other for months. [=he looked at me and I looked at him] (Isn't that romantic ?)
- The members of the group consulted with one another.[= each of the people in the group consulted with the other members of the group] (the ones with the others!)
2. Reciprocal pronouns can bear the genitive indicating possession: each other's / one another's.
- This summer, my friend and I will stay in each other's flats.
Let's help one another!
You see! That wasn't difficult... So, you just have to keep all this in mind and ... face the test!
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