Reflexive and Reciprocal Pronouns
You can teach you English. Nope, you can’t teach you English.
We bought us lunch. Nope, we didn’t buy us lunch.
We will see us later. Nope, we won’t see us later.
So it’s impossible to learn a language on your own? And we either stole lunch or went hungry? And I don’t want to meet you?
No! Those things might be true, but the grammar is incorrect. Instead, it should be:
You can teach yourself English.
We bought ourselves lunch.
We will see each other later.
Germans make this mistake quite often, so pay attention.
Whenever the subject and the object of a sentence are the same, you can't use normal pronouns (me, you, him, her, it, us, them). Instead, you have to use either reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves) and reciprocal pronouns (one another, each other). Germans often forget about this because in German you normally don't have to worry about it ("Ich frage mich...", "Wir sehen uns...", etc.). But it's easy to understand: just think about how you say “Er freut sich” instead of “Er freut ihn,“ and apply it to everything.
When to use reciprocal pronouns (myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves)
The simple rule to remember: whenever the subject and object are the same, don't use a normal pronoun!
For first and second person (I – myself, you – yourself, we – ourselves, you – yourselves), making this mistake just sounds bad, but won’t lead to confusion. However, making the mistake in the third person (he – himself, she – herself, it – itself, they – themselves) can lead to a misunderstanding (just like in German: "Er fragt ihn" is different than "Er fragt sich").
Correct: “I taught myself to play piano.”
Incorrect: “I taught me to play piano.”
Correct: “You bought yourself a present for Christmas.”
Incorrect: “You bought you a present for Christmas.”
Correct: “We got ourselves something to eat."
Incorrect: “We got us something to eat.”
Correct: “I hope you enjoy yourselves on your vacation.”
Incorrect: “I hope you enjoy you on your vacation.”
“He hit himself on the hand with a hammer” vs “He hit him on the hand with a hammer”
In the first case, there is only one person, and the person using the hammer is the one who got injured (and is probably a bit stupid).
In the second case, there are two people: one who is using the hammer (perhaps an evil person) and one who is now injured (and probably very upset).
“They threw themselves a party” vs “They threw them a party”
In the first case, one group of people organized a party to celebrate themselves (there is only one group here).
In the second case, one group of people organized a party to celebrate a different group of people (for example: the parents organized a birthday party for their twins).
When to use “each other” and “one another”
When the subject is two people and the actions are done to the other person, use “each other”.
When the subject is three or more people and the actions are done to the other people, use either “one another” or “each other”.
Bill loves Jane, and Jane loves Bill: Bill and Jane love each other.
My mom loves my dad, my brother, my sister, and me. My dad loves my mom, my brother, etc: My mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, and I all love one another OR They all love each other OR My mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, and I all love each other OR They all love one another.
So now that you know the theory behind this, here are some common sentences where you can use your new knowledge.
“We will see each other tomorrow” = “Wir sehen uns Morgen”
“I am buying myself a bike” = “Ich kaufe mir ein Fahrrad”
“He taught himself how to swim” = “Er bringt sich selbst Schwimmen bei”
My goal is always to explain things quickly and simply so you can spend less time learning and more time speaking! If this explanation made sense to you, let me know in the comments below. If you are still uncertain about something, ask me and I will do my best to explain it more clearly.
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