For the first-person singular pronouns, it seems obvious that these pronouns can only refer the speaker, since there is always only one speaker, so it must be always coreferential, as in

I(i) took my(i) bag.
*I(i) took *my(j) bag.

And it also seems obvious that the third person pronouns do not have to be coreferential.

He(i) took his(j) bag.

But I'm not so sure about second person pronouns and plural pronouns. In most of the cases of English, they seem to be always coreferential.

We(i) took our(i) bags.
*We(i) took our(j) bags.
You(i) follow yourself(i).
*You(singular, i) follow you(singular, j).

Is this also the case for other languages? How about those languages with inclusive first-person pronouns?

P.S. not a native speaker of English

  • I suppose we can say something like we (me and Mary) brought back our (those of mine, Mary's, and the listener's) bags - but if the language doesn't have different pronouns for "we exclusive" and "we inclusive" the sentence will be ambiguous outside its external context. Sep 20, 2017 at 15:30
  • It only takes a hand motion or an eye glance and the two examples you mark as agrammatical make perfect sense to me as a native speaker. Have you never said, "You(i) and you(j) and you(k) go down X?" Sep 21, 2017 at 2:46

1 Answer 1


This is a very interesting question for Czech, where we use reflexive pronouns in case of co-reference and there is a clear distinction of co-reference and multiple reference in the third person

1) Já(i) jsem si vzal svůj(i) batoh - I(i) took my(i) bag
2) On(i) si vzal svůj(i) batoh - He(i) took his(i) bag
3) On(i) si vzal jeho(j) batoh - He(i) took his(j) bag

From a language user's point of view, I would say you can extend it frequently also to the first and second person plural.

4) My(já,Pavel) jsme byli na naší(tým) poradě - We(me, Paul) were on our(team) meeting.
5) My(já,manželka) jsme byli ve svém(já,manželka) domě - We(me,wife) were in our(me,wife) house.

I certainly cannot imagine using the reflexive svůj in the case 4).

However it is necessary to mention that the usage of the reflexive in the first/second person plural tends to get somewhat blurry in the last years and one can see the reflexive pronoun falling somewhat out of use even in case of a very clear co-reference (my personal suspicion is that this is an influence of advertising where they typically want to highlight you as the customer and your choices, which the reflexive pronoun does not really do).

Addendum: Also it surprises me that you would not permit *We(i) took our(j) bags. in English. I admit that without any pragmatic context, my preferred reading of We took our bags would be that with co-reference, however in a context of, say, a group of tourists, saying something like...

6) We (me,Paul) took our(our group) bags

...seem perfectly cromulent to me, but then again, I am not a native speaker of English.

  • 6 is cromulent.
    – mobileink
    Sep 24, 2017 at 18:07
  • by which i mean copacetic, i. e. "fine". the web seeems to be confused about the meaning of "cromulent".
    – mobileink
    Sep 24, 2017 at 18:23

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