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Personal and Reflexive Pronouns, Adjectives, and Possible Sources of Confusion

Paul Moran Latin 101 Fall 2001

This handout should tell you nothing new. However, because the concepts and forms of
personal pronouns versus reflexive pronouns or possessive adjectives versus reflexive
possessive adjectives can be confusing, I have tried to collect them in an ordered fashion
all in one place – i.e. this handout. Hopefully by seeing each of the various parts laid out
and explained in relation to the other parts, things will become less confusing for you. If
you are still (or more) confused after reading the handout, seek professional help! It may
also be helpful to reread the chapters in Wheelock in which these concepts are discussed
– chapters 9, 11, 13.

I. Personal Pronouns: These are the Latin words for the pronouns “I, we, you, he, she, it,
they.” Notice they are pronouns and therefore will behave like nouns grammatically.
They simply replace a noun so that you needn’t repeat the same word over and over:
“Sextus saw the king. Sextus gave the king a sword, and the king gave Sextus a horse.”
vs. “Sextus saw the king. Sextus gave him a sword, and he gave Sextus a horse.”
Personal pronouns were perfectly straightforward until you learned reflexive pronouns
and had to distinguish between the two. See section II for doing that. In the meantime,
here are the personal pronouns.

First Person Second Person Third Person


singular singular singular
masc., fem., or neut. masc., fem., or neut. masc. fem. neut.
Nom. egō tū is ea id
Gen. meī tuī eius eius eius
Dat. mihi tibi eī ei eī
Acc. mē tē eum eam id
Abl. mē tē eō eā eō

plural plural plural


masc., fem., or neut. masc., fem., or neut. masc. fem. neut.
Nom. nōs vōs eī/iī eae ea
Gen. nostrum/nostrī vestrum/vestrī eōrum eārum eōrum
Dat. nōbis vōbīs eīs eīs eīs
Acc. nōs vōs eōs eās ea
Abl. nōbis vōbīs eīs eīs eīs

II. Reflexive Pronouns: These are very similar to personal pronouns. However, reflexive
pronouns “bend back,” or refer, to the subject of the sentence. So if you use a pronoun to
refer to someone or something, be it a direct object, indirect object, genitive of some
kind, etc., you have a basic question to ask: is that someone or something the same entity
as whoever or whatever is the grammatical subject of the sentence? If the answer is yes,
you need a reflexive pronoun/adjective (“the king sees the king” = “the king sees
himself”). If the answer is no (i.e. the pronoun is not the same entity as the subject of the
sentence), then you need a personal pronoun (“Sextus sees the king” = “Sextus sees

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him”). In English we usually express a reflexive with ___-self words (I see myself, she
hears herself, etc.). In Latin, however, for the first and second person the “regular”
pronoun (Sextus sees me) and the reflexive pronoun (I see myself) are identical. Only the
third person reflexive differs from its corresponding personal pronoun (i.e. third person
personal pronoun = is, ea, id; third person reflexive pronoun = sui…). Also note that the
third person reflexive pronoun has the same forms in the singular and the plural (the king
sees himself = rex sē videt, the kings see themselves = regēs sē videt).

To say the same thing another way, the key to distinguishing reflexives is noticing
who/what is the subject of the sentence, because it is in relation to the subject that a
pronoun is determined to be a personal pronoun or a reflexive pronoun. In amās mē (you
love me), mē is a personal pronoun, not a reflexive pronoun, because the subject of the
sentence is “you,” and the pronoun is referring to someone/thing other than that subject.
In amō mē (I love me, a.k.a. I love myself), however, mē is a reflexive pronoun because it
refers back to the subject of the sentence (“I”). Reflexive pronouns can perform any
function any other noun can perform (e.g. direct object, indirect object, object of
preposition, etc.) except for being the subject of a sentence (hence there are no
nominative forms listed below). The forms of the reflexive pronoun are:

First Person Second Person Second Person


singular singular singular
masc., fem., or neut. masc., fem., or neut. masc., fem., or neut.
Nom. --- --- ---
Gen. meī tuī suī
Dat. mihi tibi sibi
Acc. mē tē sē
Abl. mē tē sē

plural plural plural


masc., fem., or neut. masc., fem., or neut. masc., fem., or neut.
Nom. --- --- ---
Gen. nostrum/nostrī vestrum/vestrī suī
Dat. nōbis vōbīs sibi
Acc. nōs vōs sē
Abl. nōbis vōbīs sē

III. Possessive Adjectives: You are already familiar with the way Latin can show
possession with a genitive of possession, e.g. rosa pullae pulchra est (“The rose of the
girl is pretty.” = “The girl’s rose is pretty.”). Thence you would expect “my rose is
pretty” to use the genitive of ego to show possession, literally “the rose of me is pretty,”
but this is not the case. For first and second person singular and plural, possession is
never shown by using the pronoun I/we/you/you in the genitive (“of me, of you,” etc.).
Rather, possessive adjectives are used:
meus, mea, meum: my/mine
noster, nostra, nostrum: our/ours
tuus, tua, tuum: your/yours (sing.)

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vester, vestra, vestrum: your/yours (pl.)
These adjectives are declined in the same way as magnus, magna, magnum. Note that
because they are adjectives they must agree with the noun they modify in number,
gender, and case. vides meam rosam. mea rosa pulchra est. “You see my rose. My
rose is pretty.” amor tuus est magnus. “Your love is great.” Note: don’t confuse the
adjectives meus, noster, tuus, vester (my/our/your/your) and their various forms with
the pronouns egō, nōs, tū, vōs (I/we/you/you) and their various forms.
For the third person singular and plural possessive (his/hers/its/theirs), no such
possessive adjective exists. Rather, Latin employs the aforementioned genitive of
possession, putting the third person personal pronoun is, ea, id (him, her, it) into the
genitive. Note that this is a pronoun, not an adjective. rosa eius pulchra est. The rose of
him/her/it is pretty. = His/her/its rose is pretty. rosa eorum/earum pulchra est. The rose
of those people is pretty = Their rose is pretty.

IV. Reflexive Possessive Adjectives: Reflexive possessive adjectives are related to


possessive adjectives just as reflexive pronouns are related to personal pronouns. They
are adjectives that show possession (again “my/our/your/his…”), but possession that
refers back to the subject of the sentence. Reflexive possessive adjectives are usually
translated “my/your/our/his/her/its/their own.” The forms of the reflexive possessive
adjective are exactly the same as the regular possessive adjective in the first and second
person singular and plural (“he has my book” and “I have my own book” both use meus).
The third person singular and plural, as you will recall, did not have a “normal”
possessive adjective (i.e. we cannot say “I have his book” with an adjective for “his” we
must use the genitive of posssession “eius”) but Latin does have an adjective for reflexive
possession in the third person (i.e. “he has his own book”). These reflexive possessive
adjectives are all declined just as magnus, magna, magnum.
meus, mea, meum: my/mine
noster, nostra, nostrum: our/ours
tuus, tua, tuum: your/yours (sing.)
vester, vestra, vestrum: your/yours (pl.)
suus, sua, suum: his/hers/its/theirs
Notice that these are all adjectives and therefore must agree with the noun they modify
in number, gender, and case. video meam rosam. I see my (own) rose. amat suos
fratres. He loves his (own) brothers. boni diligunt suam magistram. The good people
esteem their (female) teacher.

V. Intensive Pronoun: ipse, ipsa, ipsum is an intensive pronoun and is easily confused
with reflexive pronouns because both are often translated in English as “___-self.” It is
sometimes helpful (though awkward-sounding) to translate ipse, ipsa, ipsum instead as
“the very ____,” to avoid this confusion. You can also think of an intensive as the Latin
way of adding italics or all caps or asterisks etc. to give emphasis to a word in English: I
saw ***Caesar***! = Caesarem ipsum video. Please take great care not to confuse
intensives with reflexives, as they are distinctly separate in their functions: e.g. consider
the intensive in rosam video ipse “I myself see the rose (intensive)” = “I myself see the
rose” (or **I** see the rose”) as compared to the reflexive used in mē video “I see

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myself.” So English uses the word “myself” in two different ways, but Latin has a
separate word for each use – do you see the distinction?

VI. Demonstratives: In all the hoopla of personals and reflexives and intensives, don’t get
confused about the demonstratives you learned earlier. Demonstratives point to
something – this/that, these/those. They can either be pronouns (“this is difficult”) or
adjectives (“this test is difficult”). Here is a brief reminder (if you don’t remember how
they’re declined, make sure you look them up and learn them!).
hic, haec, hōc: this/these
ille, illa, illus: that/those
iste, ista, istud: that/those (sometimes intensive/derogatory – “that ___ of yours”)
īdem, eadem, idem: the same
also remember that is, ea, id, as well as being the third person personal pronoun,
can also be used as a demonstrative adjective with less force than hic or ille: ea
puella amica est. This/that girl is friendly.