Reflexive Pronouns in Schoolbooks

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009
17 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents


1. The Phenomenon
1.1 The two different uses of reflexive pronouns
1.2 Different types/characteristics of reflexive pronouns

2. Implementation of reflexive pronouns in 7th grade schoolbooks (Gymnasium)
2.1 Cornelsen (p.131 et seqq.)
2.2 Diesterweg (p.144)
2.3 Klett (p. 105)

3. Empirical Investigation
3.1 Cornelsen
3.2 Diesterweg
3.3 Klett
3.4 Further Contexts

4. Conclusion



In seventh grade (Gymnasium) reflexive pronouns are introduced, usually through schoolbooks. Since this grammatical structure is not repeated in the following curriculum, the explanations here are vital for the learner, because, presumably, in the following grades teachers will not focus on explaining the usage of reflexive pronouns again or alternatively, certainly not as detailed as it should happen in seventh grade. Since the explanations are very short, and they only show the two cases of reflexive pronouns, I argue, that they will not provide sufficient information for the students and for providing enough information, teachers will have to use other grammar books.

Therefore, in this term paper, I will investigate whether the implementation of reflexive pronouns through seventh grade English-schoolbooks is sufficient to let students understand and eventually use this phenomenon correctly. In the first part of this paper, I will begin with introducing the phenomenon. Here, I will give a short overview of how reflexive pronouns developed. Furthermore, I will present two different acknowledged theories and their conditions on reflexive pronouns. I will then show the two different usages of this phenomenon and will give examples of cases which are somewhat different from the common way of using it. In the second part, I will present the explanations and rules as they are given in the three most commonly used schoolbooks here in Hesse to show how the reflexive pronouns are implemented. In the third part, I will investigate in how far these rules are sufficient to explain the examples given in those schoolbooks respectively. I will furthermore analyze examples given in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost”, which are suggested for the use in seventh grade. Here, I will rather put my focus on somewhat more complex examples in order to find out whether those short rules apply for them as well. I will then conclude, whether my assumption that the explanations in these schoolbooks are not sufficient can be verified.

1. The Phenomenon

“Reflexive pronouns are inflectional forms of the personal pronouns, formed morphologically by the compounding of self with another form: the dependent genitive (myself), the accusative (himself), or the plain (oneself)” (Huddleston 2002: 1483).

The term reflexive pronoun is derived from Latin reflexus and pronomen, and it is used for describing a pronoun which refers to the subject of a sentence, clause, or verbal phrase in which it stands; specifically: a personal pronoun compounded with –self (cf. Meriam-Webster Online 2009).

Unlike in Modern English, Old English had no special reflexive forms, instead general pronouns were used reflexively. The reason lies in the development of the English language or rather in the transformation from a synthetic into an analytic language. Old English had only few auxiliaries but morphological case and agreement to express grammatical relations. Through the course of the history, they gradually disappeared; and therefore auxiliaries, determiners, (reflexive) pronouns and prepositions in fixed positions were used instead (cf. van Gelderen 2000: 1 et seq.).

Reflexive pronouns are an anaphoric phenomenon, since they refer to the antecedents used in the sentence. “The term ‘anaphor’ […] can be used for reference to a relation between two linguistic elements, in which the interpretation of one (called anaphor) is in some way determined by the interpretation of the other (called antecedent)” (Huang 2006: 231). Looking at this phenomenon from a syntactic perspective, there are certain principles which need to be followed in order to avoid ungrammatical sentences. One theory which formulates such principles or conditions is Avram Noam Chomsky’s binding theory.

[1] An anaphor must be bound in its governing category

[2] A Pronoun must be free in its governing category

[3] An R-expression must be free

[4] a) I see myself.
b) *I want her to see myself.
c) *I saw me.
d) *Ronaldo noticed that Ronaldo left early.

The pronoun in a) has to be reflexive in order to fulfill principle [1]. Since the anaphor myself is bound to its governor and the subject, the sentence is grammatical. Whereas in b) the anaphor is not bound within its governing category, and therefore the pronoun me has to replace the reflexive myself. In this case, the pronoun would be free in its governing category and would therefore fulfill principle [2]. Since the referential expression has to be free and the second Ronaldo is linked to the first, d) is ungrammatical.

Because these principles cannot account for all examples of reflexive pronouns (specifically not for all languages), Reinhart & Reuland reformulated them as conditions on predicates:

[5] A reflexive-marked syntactic predicate is reflexive.

[6] A reflexive semantic predicate is reflexive-marked.

In a) the predicate see is reflexive-marked (one argument has the reflexive ending –self) and this is why both of its arguments need to be co-indexed. This condition is fulfilled since I and the anaphor myself co-refer. In c) the predicate is not reflexively marked even though the two arguments are co-indexed, and therefore the sentence is ungrammatical.

(cf. van Gelderen 2000:13 et seqq.)

1.1 The two different uses of reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are used in two different ways, either emphatic or as complements. If used emphatically, they can function in the structure of a clause or of a noun phrase (NP). If they are used as complements, they can either be a complement of a verb or a preposition.

[7] Rhiana wrote the report herself. (emphatic use)

[8] Rhiana feeds herself now. (complement use)

In [7] the reflexive is used to emphasize that the subject Rhianna has written the report on her own. Herself functions as an adjunct in the structure of the clause. [8] shows the complement use of the reflexive pronoun, since it functions as a complement of the verb feeds. However, in complement function, pronouns can either be reflexive or non-reflexive - compare [9].

(cf. Huddleston 2002: 1483 et seq.)

1.2 Different types/characteristics of reflexive pronouns

[9] a) Ann blames herself/*her for the accident. (mandatory)

b) Ann tied a rope around herself/her. (optional)

c) Ann realizes that they blame *herself/her for the accident. (inadmissible)

The reflexive in a) is mandatory since the antecedent Ann cannot function as an antecedent for her. Whereas in b) the use of the reflexive pronoun is optional because the non-reflexive form can be used instead with the same antecedent. In c) the reflexive is impermissible, since only the general pronoun is admissible here (cf. Huddleston 2002: 1484 et seq.).

Generally, about the relation between basic reflexives and their antecedents, it can be stated that,

[T]he antecedent is generally superordinate in the sense that it occupies a higher position in the constituent structure. The prototypical antecedent is subject, in the structure of a clause or NP, and as such it is higher than other dependents of the head verb or noun.

(Huddleston 2002: 1493)

However, in preposed clause structures, the reflexive does not have to follow the antecedent. In [10] the reflexive pronoun precedes the antecedent, which is also seen to be cataphoric (cf. Huang 2006: 231). This is the only case in which the reflexive pronoun is on a higher level than its antecedent.

[10] To herself, the coordinator allocated the first watch. (Non-canonical constituent order)

[11] The drafts had been prepared by Ann and myself. (overrides)

In [11] the reflexive does not need an antecedent at all because it is a first person reflexive and can therefore be interpreted in a deictic way. Myself is deictic, because the person, which it actually refers to, is not mentioned or introduced in the sentence and is outside of what is written. As in [11], cases of overrides can only occur with a first or second person reflexive in which the use of the reflexive form is optional and only in a “restricted range of contexts where there is not the close structural relation between reflexive and antecedent” and in which this link is not required.[1]

(cf. Huddleston 2002: 1484 et seqq.)

2. Implementation of reflexive pronouns in 7th grade schoolbooks (Gymnasium)

Reflexive pronouns are implemented in 7th grade and are never again part of the curriculum. To investigate whether students are given the chance to understand this anaphoric phenomenon, three different explanations of the most frequently used English schoolbooks will be presented in this chapter. The explanations vary in their lengths and their detailedness.

2.1 Cornelsen (p.131 et seqq.)

Das Reflexivpronomen (myself, yourself, himself usw.) ist „ rückbezüglich”: Es bezieht sich auf das Subjekt des Satzes und bezeichnet dieselbe Person oder Sache wie das Subjekt (I, you, Leroy usw.)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

[12] I taught myself French.

! Beachte den Unterschied zwischen Reflexivpronomen (himself) und Personalpronomen (him).

[13] Aled fell of his bike. He hurt himself.

1. The reflexive pronoun (myself, herself, ourselves, …) refers to the subject.
2. There are some verbs that are reflexive in German, but not reflexive in English (e.g. imagine, meet, worry)


[1] However, the use of overrides is not without controversy and the acceptability varies among speakers (cf. Huddleston 2002: 1494).

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Reflexive Pronouns in Schoolbooks
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für England- und Amerikastudien)
Theory of Anaphora in Context
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Reflexivpronomen, reflexive pronouns, Anaphora, Deixis, History of Reflexive Pronouns, Old English, schoolbooks, Chomsky, Huddleston, Antecedent, Binding Theory, governing category, Reinhart & Reuland, emphatic, complement, mandatory, optional, inadmissible, Non-canonical constituent order, overrides, emphasizing pronoun, Klett, Cornelsen, Diesterweg, single-head domain, canonical constituent order, ellipted antecedent, person deixis, Verstärkender Gebrauch, Reflexiver Gebrauch, Quirk, The Canterville Ghost, Frankenstein, Huang, Hauptseminararbeit, Linguistik
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Sarah McCarty (Author), 2009, Reflexive Pronouns in Schoolbooks, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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