I have run into a problem when I am trying to find the head noun for a NP in this sentence. I haven't been able to find any rules explaining why one of them would be head, or if they even belong in the same NP. The two words in italics are the words that I am wondering about.

Oscar took the corn, so that he himself could enjoy the corn.

The task that I am doing is trying to find each free-standing NP in a text, and analyze those NPs. This one is confusing me, and the parser that I am using (Enju 2.4 online demo) is not helping me me find the head.

I am actually analyzing Oscar himself (produced by a learner of English), however, this isn't really grammatically correct, so I've changed the wording here.

I would be thankful for any of your thoughts, help, or ideas on this subject.

  • 4
    "He himself" is an NP with "he" as head. The reflexive "himself" is just an optional modifier in the NP, used to emphasise that it was "he" who could enjoy the corn and possibly no one else.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 10:48
  • 1
    Modifiers tend to occur next to what they modify, but himself in your example can be moved away from he, so I doubt it modifies he. I suggest you pay no attention to proposals about structure unless evidence is offered. @Billj gives no evidence.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 11:36
  • @Greg Lee Now that is an absurd message, both rude and of no help to the OP, who has already responded. What else could "himself" modify? This is a very simple matter.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 11:40
  • I'm not sure if himself should still be considered as modifying he if it were moved away. There seems to be a difference. To me as an L2 speaker, at least, He himself could enjoy the corn could be paraphrased as 'It was he, and not anyone else, who could enjoy the corn' , whereas 'He could enjoy the corn' could be paraphrased as 'He could enjoy the corn on his own'. I'm not a native speaker though, so I may be wrong... In any case, since the sentence is still okay without he but not without himself, I think he is the more likely head. Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 12:53
  • 1
    Yes, reflexives can occur in several positions. If for example the reflexive is located at the end of a clause as in Ed is a teacher himself, the reflexive is a clause adjunct with "Ed" as antecedent, not a modifier in the NP headed by "teacher". But that is not what the OP asked about. The focus here is on their example, which contained a reflexive pronoun in modifier function in an NP headed by "he".
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 13:34

1 Answer 1


In my view, there is a very simple argument you can deploy to justify the claim that in He himself the head is he, not himself (assuming he himself is a single NP/DP constituent, which is a possible analysis, but not necessarily the right or only one, since himself need not appear next to he): if the contrary were true, the whole NP/DP would inherit the grammatical properties of himself, rather than those of he, would not carry nominative Case, and therefore could not be a legitimate subject of a finite clause like ...he himself could enjoy the corn. Furthermore, if himself were the head, he would have to be an optional 'adjunct' (note that it cannot be a complement, since himself is saturated), and, since optional adjuncts, by definition, need not be present, himself could by himself act as a DP/NP in subject position. Apart from the case issue that would raise, it would follow that an anaphor need not have a binding antecedent c-commanding it in the smallest clause that contains the reflexive, which, of course, violates Principle A of Binding Theory.

As you can see, there are at least two rather solid arguments in support of the standard view that only he can be the head of the construction he himself (if it really is a 'construction' - a constituent, say at surface level - and has to be analysed as a single NP/DP). In case, however, you should remain skeptical and ask "How do you know that himself is not nominative?", the answer would be straightforward: if it were, * Himself could enjoy the corn should be a mere violation of Principle A of Binding Theory and Him could enjoy the corn should be a possible English sentence, but, of course, it is not. Finally, if you were to ask me, "How, come, can himself carry accusative case at all if there is neither a preposition nor a verb governing it whether it follows he or appears clause finally?", I can contemplate two possible answers: a), perhaps the most plausible one, that there is a hidden preposition (by, or maybe for?) (cf. He did it himself < He did it by himself), as there arguably is in cases like I saw her Saturday/last weekend, or b) that accusative is the 'elsewhere', or 'default', case (since nominative and genitive are assigned only in very specific contexts, subject of a finite verb or specifier of a Determiner or a noun, depending on your preferences concerning NP structure, respectively), an approach that the existence of 'absolute accusatives' in Latin and other languages could arguably endorse.

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