In a partitive construction, reflexives do not usually occur:

Julie and Bob are talking about the two of them/*themselves.

The following example is from COCA:

The men, all of them, stared into their cups.

In the above sentence, the pronoun them refers to the men. Ideally, reflexives should be able to appear when anaphoric relations are formed. For what reason do the reflexives eschew partitive structures? Thanks in advance for any comments or answers.

  • 1
    I don’t think they’re ungrammatical in partitives as such – just in this particular type of partitive. ‘All of themselves’ isn’t ungrammatical, but it is semantically different, meaning not ‘all member of the group <them>’ but rather ‘the full extent of each member of the group <them>’. The men washed all of themselves is perfectly valid, meaning not ‘all the men washed themselves’ but ‘each of the men washed himself all over’. Feb 7, 2023 at 11:31
  • Simple: Julie and Bob are talking about themselves. Versus Julie and Bob are talking about the two of them. two different meanings. The same goes for: The men, all of them, stared into their cups. versus The men themselves stared into their cups.
    – Lambie
    Feb 7, 2023 at 17:27
  • Thanks! @Janus Bahs Jacquet I did not detect the difference of the meaning.
    – Buffoon
    Feb 8, 2023 at 2:44
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    @Buffoon Consider that ‘all’ can mean two different things: it can refer to every member of a countable group (all the cars, all of them); or it can refer to the entirety of a non-countable entity (all the water, all of the time), similar to whole. When used with a reflexive, it automatically takes on the latter meaning, not the former, so “The men washed all of themselves” is similar to “I washed all of myself” – that is, not just the feet or the face, but the entire body, from head to toe. Feb 8, 2023 at 10:10
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    @ Janus Bahs Jacquet Thanks for the helpful message! I now understand the latter meaning you pointed out!
    – Buffoon
    Feb 8, 2023 at 15:19


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