In German and Swedish we have typically the ending ...sig (själv) or ...sich (selbst) (in German) when doing something with yourself, for yourself or oneself.


Ändra sig (="change yourself/change oneself")

Is it called a reflexive object? Why is it so common in Swedish when it is not as common in English? In English you might just say "He changed" but in Swedish you must say either "Han ändrade sig" or "Han förändrades." (The first means more like he changed his mind where the second expression is more like a general change.)

Nearly every Swedish verb can be used with "sig" if you do it with or for yourself. Are there different degrees of this grammar in different languages?

  • 3
    "Reflexive" is the most common. Swedish requires transitive verbs to have a stated object, while English lets it be omitted; compare e.g. Japanese where you can leave off subject pronouns too if the context makes it clear. (In some languages like Ancient Greek where this reflexivity is encoded as a grammatical voice (alongside active and passive), it's also called the "middle voice".)
    – Draconis
    Dec 24 '16 at 5:07
  • 2
    There are a fair few explicitly reflexive verbs in Italian, for instance mi sveglio - I wake (myself) up, mi alzo - I get/lift (myself) up, mi lavo - I wash (myself), mi pettino - I brush myself.. or my hair; that one doesn't really work reflexively in English or Swedish..
    – nsandersen
    Dec 24 '16 at 8:45

What you are aiming at is probably "reflexive" verbs, however most verbs that permit this are not really reflexive verbs. To get closer understanding, we need to look at certain verb classes in general:

1) Intransitive verbs These verbs do not require/permit an object and exist typically only alongside a subject. Examples are: to run, to walk, etc. (of course they can have object when they assume a different sense, e.g. to run a test, to walk a dog).

2) Transitive verbs These verbs typically require one or more objects (direct or indirect) and the term itself means that the action somehow ties or goes from one participant (subject) to the other (object). Examples are: to kill, to see etc.

They permit various transformations like passivisation etc. Now we are getting somewhere in relation to you previous question:

a) The verbs transitivity permits typically that the subject can be also the object of the verb at the same time, e.g. "to wash oneself", in which case the object is expressed by a personal or reflexive pronoun. In Romance languages, the reflexive pronoun exists only for 3rd person to distinguish reflexivity from another direct object, while in Slavic languages, the reflexive pronoun is used always if the subject and object are the same:


Je me lave.


I wash myself

Il se lave.


He washes himself

Il le lave.


He washes him


se myju


I wash myself

On se myje


He washes himself

On ho myje

3SG-NOM 3SG-ACC wash

He washes him

b) In European languages, the usage of reflexive pronouns can have other meanings as well. Another such meaning is reciprocity:

Ils se lavent


They wash themselves or They wash each other

c) Third typical meaning of the reflexive construction is the passive itself (typically with a nuance of custom or recommendation):

Nádobí se myje teplou vodou

Dishes REFL-OBJ wash warm-SG-INST water-SG-INST

Dishes is / should be washed in warm water

Ça ne se dit pas ici

It NEG1 REFL-OBJ say NEG2 here

This is not / should not be said around here

3) Reflexive verbs This is a special class of verbs that require the presence of the reflexive pronoun always and they do not generally appear without it (also non as reflexiva tantum). They often do not convey any obvious reflexivity, reciprocity or passivity but are connected e.g. with some personal state.

In Czech we have e.g.: bát se - to be afraid, smát se - to laugh, etc. Sometimes it is a little bit more difficult to distinguish, e.g. we have měnit - to change (st.) and měnit se - to undergo change and I would be very much inclined to classify the latter as reflexive verb, not a transitive verb with reflexive pronoun, because the subject here is not necessarily the source of the action.

Interestingly enough, in old Indo-European languages like Latin, A.Greek and Sanskrit, this was typically expressed synthetically by something called medio-passive (or sometimes middle) voice, with pretty similar type of verbs, e.g. A.Greek mainomai - I am crazy. The middle voice could be used for reflexivity in transitives but the verbs we classify as reflexiva tantum in Czech could, in Greek, be similarly restricted to the medio-passive form (as in: no active voice form for them - hence their Latin designation verba deponentia).

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