v47: vaccinera

What is a reflexive verb? Wikipedia gives a semantic definition: a reflexive verb is a verb whose semantic agent and patient are the same. For example, the English verb to perjure is reflexive, since one can only perjure oneself. However, I’d prefer to say that a reflexive verb is one that enters into reflexive constructions, that is, grammatical constructions that can have a reflexive meaning. In Swedish and English, these constructions involve the use of reflexive pronouns. In Swedish, the reflexive pronouns are mig, dig, sig, oss, er, sig; that is, the same as the object pronouns apart from the third person sig. In English, the reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself, etc. In English, reflexive pronouns can also be used as intensifiers; the equivalent Swedish intensifier is själv.

Swedish verbs can enter into reflexive constructions in more ways than English verbs. Some have direct equivalents in English:

Jag tvättar mig.
I wash myself.

Words like the above also have the same meaning in English and Swedish when used in a normal (nonreflexive) transitive sense, with or without the intensifier:

Jag tvättade bilen. Jag tvättade bilen själv.
I washed the car. I washed the car myself.

However, there are also many transitive/reflexive pairs which differ somewhat in meaning, such as lära (teach)/lära sig (learn), tänka (think)/tänka sig (imagine). Compare the following; both are reflexive constructions in Swedish, but only one is in English:

Sara lär sig finska. Sara lär sig finska själv.
Sara is learning Finnish. Sara is teaching herself Finnish.

Some Swedish verbs can only be used reflexively, such as bete sig (behave), försova sig (oversleep), huka sig (crouch down), bry sig om (care about).

And then (although this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list), there is a group of verbs where the meaning is of having something done to oneself by someone else, a reflexive construction but not one that fits neatly with the simple (agent=patient) definition of reflexive: klippa sig (get one’s hair cut), vaccinera sig (get vaccinated) (if you can!).

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 23:00  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Just happened upon your blog because you happened upon mine :-). Looking forward to poking around. After a quick glance, I noticed a lot of language talk…perfect for me the beginner. Tack!

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