Personal Reflexive Pronoun "себя" (-self)

Learn about Personal Reflexive Pronouns for Russian!

The Russian pronoun "себя" means "self". The reflexive pronoun себя forms a separate class of Russian pronouns, because its meaning is distinct from that of pronouns of all other classes. The reflexive pronoun себя indicates that an action being performed is directed onto the person who performs this action.

For example:

  • Она хотела побаловать себя и купила дорогое платье (She wanted to treat herself and bought an expensive dress).
  • He talked about himself (Он говорил о себе).

The pronoun себя gives reflexive meaning to transitive verbs that are not normally used as reflexives. Though the meaning is similar and in some cases reflexive verb can be substituted by non-reflexive one with pronoun себя:

Кот моется лапой – Кот моет себя лапой (A cat is washing itself with its paw).

The pronoun себя is not used as a direct object with reflexive verbs as they themselves denote the action directed onto the subject of this action.

The pronoun себя has category of case, but is not used in the nominative form, so it occurs in five of the six cases, each indicating different ways the action of the subject is reflected back to it. The reflexive pronoun does not have categories of gender, person and number.

Since this pronoun reflects the action of the subject, it cannot occur by itself as subject in the nominative case. The reflexive pronoun себя can be used with the first, second, or third person without any changes. In the following examples, notice that the pronoun себя does not change with the person, gender or number:

  • Я приготовил себе ужин (I cooked dinner for myself).
  • Ты приготовил себе ужин (You cooked dinner for yourself).
  • Он приготовил себе ужин (He cooked dinner for himself).
  • Она приготовила себе ужин (She cooked dinner for himself).
  • Мы приготовили себе ужин (We cooked dinner for ourselves).
  • Вы приготовили себе ужин (You cooked dinner for yourself).
  • Они приготовили себе ужин (They cooked dinner for themselves).

As said above, the reflexive pronoun себя is used in five of the six cases of Russian language. Here are the case forms:

English Myself, himself, herself.
Nominative Case ----
Accusative Case Себя
Genitive Case Себя
Dative Case Себе
Instrumental Case Собой
Prepositional Case Себе

As a reflexive pronoun, себя doesn't have the form of nominative case, it can’t serve as a subject of an action. So in sentences it is usually used as object, but in few cases can be used as adverbial modifier:

Девушка положила сумку около себя (The girl put the bag next to her).

Russians often use the reflexive pronoun себя when English speakers just use a personal pronoun. It is common for set expressions, where the reflexive meaning of себя is more abstract or may not be felt at all.

For example:

  • брать с собой - to take along (lit., with oneself)

    Он всегда берёт с собой портфель. – Не always takes his briefcase along.

  • вести себя - to behave (lit. behave oneself)

    Ты ведёшь себя как ребёнок. – You are behaving like a child.

  • чувствовать себя - to feel

    Я чувствую себя хорошо. – I feel well.

  • представлять себе - to imagine

    Представь себе, что все люди живут в мире. - Imagine all the people living life in peace...

The pronoun себя is used in a number of other idiomatic expressions and in colloquial speech:

  • Он хороший физик? – Так себе.
  • Is he a good physicist? – So-so, middling.
  • «К себе» или «От себя». – «Pull» and «Push» (instruction on the doors).
  • Я подумал про себя. – I thought to myself.
  • Она очень хороша собой. – She is very good-looking.
  • Он вышел из себя. – Не lost his temper.
  • Я хочу, чтобы ты взял себя в руки и успокоился. – I want you to get a grip of yourself and calm down.
  • Ему стало не по себе. – He felt very uneasy.
  • Это само собой разумеется. – That goes without saying.
  • Профессор Орлов у себя? – Is Professor Orlov in (his office)?
  • Она пошла к себе домой. – She went home (to her own place).
  • Просто будь собой! – Just be yourself!

The pronoun cам (masc.), which emphasizes the autonomy of a Subject’s action

cам (masc.) / сама (fem.) / само (neut.) / сами (pl.) often goes along with себя to make speech more expressive:

  • Я сам себя не слышу. – I don't hear myself.
  • Они сами себе испортили вечеринку. – They ruined their party by themselves.
  • Она разговаривает сама с собой. – She is talking to herself.