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    • Join Date: Apr 2008
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    #1

    reflexive pronouns

    Is there any rule that explains why we say:

    He slammed the door behind him. (not 'behind himself')?

  1. Neillythere's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: reflexive pronouns

    Hi Clark

    As a Brit, but not a teacher, and having checked Answers.com:

    reflexive pronoun: Information from Answers.com
    The noun has one meaning:
    Meaning #1: a personal pronoun compounded with -self to show the agent's action affects itself

    In your case, if it read: "He slammed himself against the door", then "himself" would be correct, because he is doing something to himself.
    If he slammed the door, he is not doing something to himself.

    Hope this helps
    Best regards
    NT


    • Join Date: Apr 2008
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    #3

    Re: reflexive pronouns

    He talked a lot about himself. (1)
    He slammed the door behind him. (2)

    One might say that if we specify 'him' in (1), it could be understood as Tom spoke about John. Such a situation is less likely in (2). However we can imagine how John rushes out of the room and then Tom slams the door in a state of anger from the inside. To say that it was John, not Tom who slammed the door, don't you think it would be reasonable to say 'behind himself'?


    • Join Date: Feb 2008
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    #4

    Re: reflexive pronouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Clark View Post
    He talked a lot about himself. (1)
    He slammed the door behind him. (2)

    One might say that if we specify 'him' in (1), it could be understood as Tom spoke about John. Such a situation is less likely in (2). However we can imagine how John rushes out of the room and then Tom slams the door in a state of anger from the inside. To say that it was John, not Tom who slammed the door, don't you think it would be reasonable to say 'behind himself'?
    I think this is explained by what you call “subect continuity.” The very fact that the subject is “he”, not “John” shows that John and “he” are one and the same person:

    “I hate you!” screamed John.
    “Cool it,” said Tom, “I was only joking.”
    “I hate you, I hate you!” sobbed John. Rushing out of the room, he slammed the door behind him.

    If “he” (underlined) were Tom, not John, the switch of subject would have to be made clear: instead of he slammed etc”, you would have to indicate the switch of subject by substituting the proper noun Tom for the pronoun he :

    “I hate you!” screamed John.
    “Cool it,” said Tom, “I was only joking.”
    “I hate you, I hate you!” sobbed John. He rushed out of the room, and Tom slammed the door behind him.

    Maybe in Russian you always have to put some form of the reflexive pronoun “Cebia”? In English you don’t necessarily have to if it is clear who you are talking about. For example, you can say:

    1) John bathed and shaved the patient then made himself a cup of coffee.
    2) John bathed and shaved then made himself a cup of coffee.

    In (2), you don’t even have to put the reflexive pronoun because it is obvious he bathed and shaved himself.

    Maybe someone else has another explanation?
    Last edited by naomimalan; 30-Sep-2008 at 20:20. Reason: double spacing needed


    • Join Date: Apr 2008
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    #5

    Re: reflexive pronouns

    Thank you so much, Naomimalan. Did I understand it right that the subject of continuity is about the previous sentence reference?


    • Join Date: Feb 2008
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    #6

    Re: reflexive pronouns

    Quote Originally Posted by Clark View Post
    Thank you so much, Naomimalan. Did I understand it right that the subject of continuity is about the previous sentence reference?
    I’m not quite sure I understood your question. The word “subject” in the term “subject continuity” refers to the grammatical subject in sentences.

    So the term “subject continuity” means subject retention across sentences.
    In John rushed out of the room. He slammed the door behind him , “John” is the grammatical subject in the first sentence; “he” is the grammatical subject in the second one. So you have “subject continuity”.

    Subject continuity is the norm. So “John” and “he” are understood to refer to the same person. If they do not refer to the same person then the switch of subject must be made clear so as not to confuse the listener/reader. In other words the subject “he” in the second sentence is automatically understood to refer back to the subject of the first sentence, “John”. If you change subjects you can’t use the pronoun “he” any more; you would have to use a personal noun (Tom) to make it clear you are talking about someone else, not John.
    That is why He slammed the door behind him can only refer to the referent of the grammatical subject in the previous sentence (John: the person who rushed out of the room).

    If this isn’t clear, feel free to say so!


    • Join Date: Apr 2008
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    #7

    Re: reflexive pronouns

    Thank you, Naomimalan. That's exactly what I meant by 'previous sentence reference'.

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