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, the phrase 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 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 sebja/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).
|1st person||Je me souviens||Nous nous souvenons||Jeg lægger mig||Vi lægger os||Ja se sjećam||Mi se sjećamo|
|2nd person||Tu te souviens||Vous vous souvenez||Du lægger dig||I lægger jer||Ti se sjećaš||Vi se sjećate|
|3rd person||Il se souvient||Ils se souviennent||Han lægger sig||De lægger sig||On se sjeća||Oni se sjećaju|
In all of these language groups, reflexive forms often present an obstacle for foreign learners (notably native speakers of English, where the feature is practically absent) due to the variety of uses. Even in languages which contain the feature, it is not always applicable to the same verbs and uses (although a common subset can be generally extracted, as outlined below). For example, the Spanish reflexive construct "se hundió el barco" ("the boat sank") has no reflexive equivalent in some Slavic languages (which use an intransitive equivalent of sink), though for example Czech does use a reflexive verb: "loď se potopila".[verification needed].
Reflexive verbs can have a variety of uses and meanings, which often escape consistent classification. Some language-common identified uses are outlined below. For example, Davies et al. identify 12 uses for Spanish reflexive constructions; Vinogradov divides Russian reflexive verbs into as many as 16 groups.
Martin Haspelmath also has a useful distinction, between the reflexive types mentioned below, which he calls introverted reflexives, and so called extroverted reflexives, which are used for verbs that are usually not reflexive, like hate oneself, love oneself, hear oneself, kill oneself. Some Indo-European languages have a different reflexive morpheme for extroverted reflexive, see for example Russian nenavidet' sebja "to hate oneself", which uses a reflexive pronoun, compare myt'-sja "to wash (oneself)", which uses a reflexive suffix (Russian can also say myt' sebja, with a reflexive pronoun, but only when the pronoun needs to be stressed for emphasis or contrast). Or Dutch haat zichzelf "hates herself", versus wast zich "washes (herself)". The distinction exists similarly in English, where introverted reflexive verbs usually have no reflexive pronoun, unlike extroverted. See Haspelmath's online article A frequentist explanation of some universals of reflexive marking. In ancient Greek, the introverted reflexive was expressed using the middle voice rather than a pronoun, and similarly in Modern Greek, it is expressed using the middle usage of the passive voice. On the other hand the extroverted reflexive was a true reflexive in Ancient Greek and Modern Greek. Similarly Claire Moyse-Faurie distinguishes between middle and reflexive in Oceanic languages, in her on-line articles about reflexives in Oceanic languages.
|Spanish||Pedro se lava.||Pedro lava al gato.|
|Italian||Pietro si lava.||Pietro lava il gatto.|
|Serbo-Croatian||Petar se kupa.||Petar kupa mačku.|
|Polish||Piotr się kąpie.||Piotr kąpie kota.|
|Пётр купает котa.
Pyotr kupayet kota.
|Danish||Peter vasker sig.||Peter vasker katten.|
|Lithuanian||Petras prausiasi.||Petras prausia katę.|
|Petras prausia save.|
|English||Peter washes himself.||Peter washes the cat.|
"Reciprocal" reflexive denotes that the agents perform the mutual actions among themselves. In most cases, the transitive verbs are also used.
|Spanish||María y Pedro se besan.||María besa a Pedro.|
|Italian||Maria e Pietro si baciano.||Maria bacia Pietro.|
|Serbo-Croatian||Marija i Petar se ljube.||Marija ljubi Petra.|
|Polish||Maria i Piotr się całują.||Maria całuje Piotra.|
|Russian||Мария и Пётр целуются.
Mariya i Pyotr tseluyutsya.
|Мария целуeт Петрa.
Mariya tseluyet Petra.
|Danish||Maria og Peter kysser hinanden.||Maria kysser Peter.|
|Lithuanian||Marija ir Petras bučiuojasi.||Marija bučiuoja Petrą.|
|English||Мary and Peter kiss [each other].||Mary kisses Peter.|
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":
|Spanish||Pedro se ofendió.|
|Italian||Pietro si offese.|
|Serbo-Croatian||Petar se uvrijedio.|
|Polish||Piotr się obraził.|
|German||Peter ärgerte sich.|
|English||Peter became/was offended.|
"Anticausative" reflexive denotes that the (usually inanimate) subject of the verb undergoes an action or change of state whose agent is unclear or nonexistent.
|Spanish||La puerta se abrió.|
|Italian||La porta si aprì.|
|Serbo-Croatian||Vrata su se otvorila.|
|Polish||Drzwi się otworzyły.|
|German||Die Tür öffnete sich.|
|English||The door (was, got) opened.|
Intransitive or Impersonal
"Intransitive" form (also known as "impersonal reflexive", or "mediopassive") take the intransitive verbs with omitted agent. In Slavic languages, practically "the only condition is that they can be construed as having a human agent. The applied human agent can be generic, or loosely specified collective or individual". The grammatical subject is either omitted (in pro-drop languages) or dummy pronoun (otherwise). Thus, those verbs are defective, as they have only the 3rd person singular (masculine or neutrum, depending on language) form.
|Spanish||Aquí se trabaja bien.||Se dice que...|
|Italian||Qui si lavora bene.||Si dice che...|
|Serbo-Croatian||Tu se radi dobro.||Smatra se da...|
|Polish||Tam pracuje się dobrze.||Uważa się, że...|
|Russian||Здесь хорошо работается.
Zdes' khorosho rabotayetsya.
|English||[People] work well here.||It is considered that...|
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":
|Spanish||Pedro se arrepintió.||Pedro se ríe[N 1]||María y Pedro se separaron.[N 1]||Pedro se queja.|
|Italian||Pietro si pentì.||[N 2]||Maria e Pietro si separarono.[N 1]||Pietro si lamenta.[N 3]|
|Serbo-Croatian||Petar se pokajao.||Petar se smije.||Marija i Petar su se rastali.||Petar se žali.[N 3]|
|Polish||Piotr się pokajał.||Piotr się śmieje.||Maria i Piotr się rozstali.||Piotr żali się.[N 3]|
|Мария и Пётр расстались.
Mariya i Pyotr rasstalis'.
|Пётр жалуeтся.[N 3]
|Lithuanian||Petras atsiprašė.||Petras juokiasi.||Marija ir Petras išsiskyrė.[N 1]||Petras skundžiasi.[N 1]|
|English||Peter repented.||Peter laughs.||Mary and Peter parted.||Peter complains.|
- The verb is reflexive, but not inherently. Both have non-reflexive forms: the transitive separar and the intransitive reír. In Lithuanian išsiskirti and skųstis have non-reflexive forms: transitive išskirti and transitive skųsti.
- The corresponding verb is not reflexive.
- Only the Spanish quejarse exists only in reflexive form (cf. the Latin deponent verb queror, I complain); however, in other languages, the corresponding non-reflexive verb has a different meaning, like "lament" or "mourn".
- האיש התפטר מעבודו - the man resigned from his job
- האיש התמכר לסמים - the man got addicted to drugs
- האיש התקלח בבוקר - the man 'showered himself', i.e., took a shower in the morning
- האישה הסתפרה אצל אבי - the woman took a haircut/had her hair done at Avi's
- Mark Davies, James Jones, Nicole Tracy. "Syntactic features, register variation, and the language learner: the case of se in Spanish."..
- "Reflexive Verbs: An Introduction". About.com:Spanish Language.
- María Luisa Rivero & Milena M. Sheppard. "On Impersonal se / się in Slavic". Current Issues in Formal Slavic Linguistics. G. Zybatow, et al., Eds. 137-147. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main. 2002.
- V. V. Vinogradov (1947). "Russkiy Yazik: Grammatičeskoe učenie o slove". Moscow.
- Parry, M. (1998). "The reinterpretation of the reflexive in Piedmontese: 'impersonal'SE constructions". Transactions of the Philological Society 96 (1): 63–116. doi:10.1111/1467-968X.00024.
- Milja Djurkovic. "Passive and Impersonal in English and Serbian". Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics University of Cambridge.
- Grahek, Sabina (2002). "Alternating unaccusative verbs in Slovene". Leeds Working Papers in Linguistics 9: 57–72.
- R. M. W. Dixon & A. Y. Aikhenvald (eds). "Changing valency: Case studies in transitivity". Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University, Melbourne.