(1) John himself said he hates himself.

(2) John said he hates himself.

In sentence (1), does he obligatorily refer to John? Or it can refer to other people as well like in sentence (2).

In more detail, if in (1) he refers to John only, is it because the first himself in the sentence gives obligatory de se reading to the pronoun?

  • I am not sure if it is a grammatical sentence but I found it on google.
    – Yili Xia
    Jan 8, 2023 at 13:41
  • What is the semantic difference between (1) and (2)?
    – Yili Xia
    Jan 8, 2023 at 14:42
  • 6
    To me, the extra himself serves only to emphasise who the speaker is. It changes nothing about who ‘he’ is – it can be John or someone else in both cases. Jan 8, 2023 at 14:59
  • 3
    'he" can refer to another man or boy.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2023 at 16:28
  • thanks for your clarification! @JanusBahsJacquet I understand that the adjunct doesn't change the reference.
    – Yili Xia
    Jan 9, 2023 at 2:36

1 Answer 1


"John himself" implies that it was less expected that John would do so, and in this usage is synonymous with the word "even", as in, "Even John did so."

John is a motivational speaker who always encourages people to love themselves and will never declare that somebody authentically hates themselves; instead, he will always encourage them to realise that they do not actually hate themselves, deep inside. Still, people were skeptical even John could have this optimistic attitude when he met Gregor, an unusually self-loathing person. After their encounter, the participants in the seminar were enthused that, as expected, pretty much every person there had felt that Gregor truly did hate himself and would never budge in his views towards himself - even the speaker. John himself said that he hates himself.

  • 1
    Thank you. I do not know how this or that technical framework would analyse how himself alters the content of the sentence. I think both semantics and pragmatics might have something to say about it. Semantically, possibly conveying a "mood" (intensified, unexpected, stands out), or, implying that the default understanding would have been somebody else on his behalf - If John is a King whose servants bring gifts wherever he goes, it would be interesting if John not only brought a cake (in the sense that he arranged for it but technically his servants did the actual delivery) - but (cont.) Jan 10, 2023 at 16:51
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    but John himself brought a cake. (It is unusual for a person of high status like John to carry physical objects). I do not know if that counts as a "presupposition" but if you want to decompose the sentence it could be something like: 1. There is a man called John. 2. There is a cake. 3. The cake is such that John brought it. 4. The cake is such that John performed the action of bringing (as opposed to being associated with the goal or result or something.) I am not sure about pragmatics but I wonder if anaphora could have some role, like the sentence would not make sense without a context Jan 10, 2023 at 16:54
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    in which it had been established that by default it would not have been John himself who did something. I.e., "John himself went for a run" could sound odd if all you really meant to say was "John went for a run." I don't know too much about pragmatics though. Jan 10, 2023 at 16:54
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    Sorry, as with so many of my answers on this site, the moment I write them I start to doubt them. This could use a lot more analysis. I can think of a couple readings so far, but I am not fully sure why they work the way they do. One might be topicalisation: Richard built a canoe. Peter built a swingset. John himself built a cabin. (= As for John, ...) A second specifically implies they did it themself: John himself fixed the flat tire (it really emphasises we would not expect John to get on his hands and knees and dirty), like, "Can you believe it? John actually got out the tools and fixed Jan 10, 2023 at 17:07
  • 1
    it himself". I am not sure I have a theory unifying these uses except possibly what I originally said: it somehow "emphasises" how striking it is that John did something, but it is possible that it is heavily context-dependent why it is so striking. With this hypothesis, we could look for other possible moods conveyed, I'm not sure. Jan 10, 2023 at 17:08

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