HomeQ&Apronomial verb / verb reflexive

pronomial verb / verb reflexive

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This may qualify as the proverbial "dumb question," but here goes anyway . . .

In the dictionary on the site, the first listing that comes up has a category of "pronomial verb." The second listing has the category of "verb reflexive." Are these just different words for the same thing? And is that just dictionary-speak, to say "verb reflexive" rather than "reflexive verb"? Finally, what is a "verb neuter"?

(You can see what I'm talking about if you look up the verb "encontrar", which is the subject of a current thread.)

6920 views
updated MAY 17, 2011
posted by Natasha

24 Answers

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"Pronomial verb" is used a lot in the study of French and Spanish grammar, but frankly, it doesn't mean a lot to me. (I'm waiting for the rain of flame from Lazarus for that comment.) I wouldn't get too wrapped up in all these grammatical terms if I were you. When native speakers learn Spanish, they don't worry about these tags; they just absorb the language. At your level, I think you are ready for absorption, too. We'll never absorb as much as a native, but the more we read and hear Spanish, the more natural these various uses of "se," etc., become to us. Is "encontrarse" pronomial? Is it reflexive? Who cares? I say, let's just try and mimic how the natives use it.

updated JUN 30, 2015
posted by 00bacfba
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James: I guess that many people don't care if you don't care about what a pronominal verb is; many learners want to know the grammatical rules to improve their skills in foreign languages, because not everybody has your natural talent to learn languages without grammar. I don't know whether you dislike the term because these pronominal verbs doesn't exist in your language or in Japanese, or God knows why, but you appear to have declared war to this word. In Europe is widely used by professional language teachers, and its use has been proved to be effective in the classroom. I hope you don't mind if we talk about them despite your clear position against it.

And now I'll try to answer the question:

Pronominal simply means "related to the pronoun", and a "pronominal verb", in general, is a verb that goes with an "atonic" pronoun which must agree with the subject, but it has no syntactic function at all. Let me explain this:

Me lavo. - I wash myself.

Here the verb is not regarded as pronominal, but as reflexive, since "me" is not just pointing to myself, but it is also a direct object, so it has a clear function. You can also use it with other people instead of reflexively, and wash other people: "Lo lavo".

Me suicido. - I commit suicide.

Well, here you are not committing suicide to yourself or anything like that. This is not reflexive, and the pronoun is compulsory. This verb is called pronominal, so forget about "Lo suicido", which is plain wrong.

Me hielo. - I am freezing.

Are you freezing yourself here? Of course not! However, you can freeze things... and even people, if you use liquid helium, hehe. This "me" doesn't mean that you are doing it to yourself, but quite the opposite: it means that you are no longer doing any action, but the action is affecting you. This "me" is turning a transitive verb intro an intransitive one; the result is a pronominal verb.

The best Spanish reference grammar that I've ever seen written in English, "A New Reference Grammar of
Modern Spanish
" dedicates an entire chapter to pronominal verbs, and it says in the introduction:

:

It is misleading to give the name 'reflexive' to such verbs. 'Reflexive' refers to just one of the meanings that a pronominal verb can have, i.e that the subject performs an action on or for him/herself, as in 'I'm washing. One important use of pronominal verbs is to show that a verb is intransitive. English does not always differentiate transitive from intransitive verbs: cf. 'I've finished the dinnerl/'the dinner has finished', 'I boiled it' / 'it boiled'. But with a few important exceptions, Spanish marks the intransitive meaning of an otherwise transitive verb by making it pronominal.

The point of calling a verb pronominal is just to highlight the fact that you shouldn't waste your time trying to figure out why a reflexive pronoun is there, since there is no reflexivity at all in the pronoun of these kind of verbs, and they behave completely different from reflexive or normal verbs in many aspects. For starters, many pronominal verbs require a kind of object that always take a preposition, like "acordarse DE", and cannot be used without it, so as soon as you know that a verb is pronominal, you are prepared for these unusual features, which, unlike what happens with the reflexive verbs, make literal translations of this pronoun a waste of time.

That's the point of using the term reflexive: avoid the typical "Why is it 'to freeze myself', if I am not freezing myself'

updated MAY 17, 2011
posted by lazarus1907
I sure needed this explanation and really appreciate you making it so clear. - territurtle, MAY 17, 2011
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Well, folks, you have certainly taken this and run with it (is that a phrasal statement'). My question about pronomials has been answered and then some. However, it appears that I will have to go to bed wondering about the neutered verbs . . .

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by Natasha
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I agree with your general argument but take some small exception to your first example sentence (provided that it is understood to convey the sense that Lazaro suggested.) Thus (to extend your first example), I would not find anything unusual in "I awoke to find myself..." (element of surprise).

Yes, if there is an element of surprise (that is, you didn't expect to find yourself in that place), then using "find oneself" is perfectly natural in English. But in the first example given above by Lazarus, the natural translation contains no element of surprise, and would be "I was at home one day when all of a sudden I heard an explosion."

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
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James Santiago said:

*Un día me encontraba en mi casa, cuando de repente, oí una explosión. ¿Dónde te encuentras?

Me encuentro en mi habitación.

El tesoro se encuentra enterrado en un lugar secreto.

Would anyone use "find oneself/itself" for any of these'*

No, of course not. The natural translations would use other verbs. My point was just that we can consider these Spanish constructions as reflexive, because all four of them make logical sense in that way, even if we don't say it that way in natural English. Specifically, when we are learning Spanish, we learn that Spanish speakers conceptualize these situations using encontrarse, whereas we would conceptualize those same situations using other verbs. This is a basic requirement of learning a foreign language, the ability to accept that the same situation can be conceived differently. Actually, this is what I love about foreign language; it allows me to think about the world from slightly different angles.


I agree with your general argument but take some small exception to your first example sentence (provided that it is understood to convey the sense that Lazaro suggested.) Thus (to extend your first example), I would not find anything unusual in "I awoke to find myself..." (element of surprise). I wouldn't even consider that to be "old fashioned").

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by samdie
0
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*Un día me encontraba en mi casa, cuando de repente, oí una explosión.
¿Dónde te encuentras?
Me encuentro en mi habitación.
El tesoro se encuentra enterrado en un lugar secreto.

Would anyone use "find oneself/itself" for any of these'*

No, of course not. The natural translations would use other verbs. My point was just that we can consider these Spanish constructions as reflexive, because all four of them make logical sense in that way, even if we don't say it that way in natural English. Specifically, when we are learning Spanish, we learn that Spanish speakers conceptualize these situations using encontrarse, whereas we would conceptualize those same situations using other verbs. This is a basic requirement of learning a foreign language, the ability to accept that the same situation can be conceived differently. Actually, this is what I love about foreign language; it allows me to think about the world from slightly different angles.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
0
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lazarus1907 said:

I am sure I've heard "I found myself in a room" in English, but always a bit like expressing surprise or for unforeseeable situations, and not just to simply mean "I was in a room". Anyway, "Me encuentro a mí mismo en una habitación" is just stupid and wrong in Spanish, because it sounds like you were trying to find yourself in the first place, so it should be avoided. However, people are told that you can always add "a mí mismo" with reflexive verbs. This is true. But this one is not reflexive, but pronominal.


Yes. A very nice distinction (and not in the sense of our previous discussion ["nice"="foolish"]). There should be a sense of "suddenly" or "surprisingly" present to justify the "myself"). My abject apologies! (jeje)

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by samdie
0
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I am sure I've heard "I found myself in a room" in English, but always a bit like expressing surprise or for unforeseeable situations, and not just to simply mean "I was in a room". Anyway, "Me encuentro a mí mismo en una habitación" is just stupid and wrong in Spanish, because it sounds like you were trying to find yourself in the first place, so it should be avoided. However, people are told that you can always add "a mí mismo" with reflexive verbs. This is true. But this one is not reflexive, but pronominal.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by lazarus1907
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lazarus1907 said:

"Encontrarse" in the following examples simply means to be in a specific place: Un día me encontraba en mi casa, cuando de repente, oí una explosión.

¿Dónde te encuentras?

Me encuentro en mi habitación.

El tesoro se encuentra enterrado en un lugar secreto.

Would anyone use "find oneself/itself" for any of these? If you add the reflexive reinforcements "a mí mismo" or "a sí mismo" in Spanish, the sentences all become ridiculous and grammatically unacceptable... because they are not reflexive. Why tell people that they are reflexive then? How many times do I have to answer the question "Why do they use the reflexive? The sentence doesn't make sense"?


Much as it pains me, yes, I have no problem with "I found myself at/in my home." (alright, I concede that it is not the most _likely_ rendition in colloquial English but I certainly, don't find it _unacceptable_wink. This may simply come down to a question of my finding 19th (or even 18th) century expressions acceptable in conversation. I should, perhaps, spend more time watching television and less time reading books!.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by samdie
0
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"Encontrarse" in the following examples simply means to be in a specific place:

Un día me encontraba en mi casa, cuando de repente, oí una explosión.
¿Dónde te encuentras?
Me encuentro en mi habitación.
El tesoro se encuentra enterrado en un lugar secreto.

Would anyone use "find oneself/itself" for any of these? If you add the reflexive reinforcements "a mí mismo" or "a sí mismo" in Spanish, the sentences all become ridiculous and grammatically unacceptable... because they are not reflexive. Why tell people that they are reflexive then? How many times do I have to answer the question "Why do they use the reflexive? The sentence doesn't make sense"'

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by lazarus1907
0
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lazarus1907 said:

samdie said:

I have no difficulty with saying "I found myself in ..." but, looking at the preceding, I think Lazarus would say "pronominal verb". Once again, I suppose, we have to wait and see.

Of course you don't, but I don't think that the meaning is the same: there are differences, because "encontrarse" here simply means "to be in a place", without further implications. Would you say that "the cathedral finds itself not far from here" instead of "is (located)"? In "El paciente se encuentra en coma" (the patient is in a coma) the patient is not finding anything. In Spanish "se encuentra" here would be standard Spanish, and the cathedral is not finding itself or anything like that; any attempt to see pure reflexivity here would produce nonsense. Also, the verb cannot be used with those meanings without the pronoun, and for those interested in syntax, it turns out that you can't find any function for these pronouns. That's why the "pronominal" disctinction here is useful.


As to the "cathedral", I would accept that but with the stipulation that I would have to be in a particularly "forgiving mood" (i.e. this would be _seriously_ old fashioned English). Your "coma" sentence goes way beyond anything that I would be prepared to accept as English. It's not that I disagree with you (no me atrevería) but that _some_ of the examples that you propose as "problematic" for English speakers, I don't find to be all that troublesome (while, at the same time, recognizing that mine is definitely a minority opinion).
In a certain sense, my position is like that of James; I've found my _own_ way of understanding/remembering some locutions and, so, I tend to prefer to think of them "in my own terms". All that said, I find your explanations unfailingly interesting and I am (or, at least, I would like to _think_ I am) always willing to adopt a "simpler"/more universally applicable rule.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by samdie
0
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samdie said:

I have no difficulty with saying "I found myself in ..." but, looking at the preceding, I think Lazarus would say "pronominal verb". Once again, I suppose, we have to wait and see.

Of course you don't, but I don't think that the meaning is the same: there are differences, because "encontrarse" here simply means "to be in a place", without further implications. Would you say that "the cathedral finds itself not far from here" instead of "is (located)"? In "El paciente se encuentra en coma" (the patient is in a coma) the patient is not finding anything. In Spanish "se encuentra" here would be standard Spanish, and the cathedral is not finding itself or anything like that; any attempt to see pure reflexivity here would produce nonsense. Also, the verb cannot be used with those meanings without the pronoun, and for those interested in syntax, it turns out that you can't find any function for these pronouns. That's why the "pronominal" disctinction here is useful.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by lazarus1907
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Hola! Buenas noches. Me llama Sherrie. Estoy bien. Me gusta creer y escriber. Soy madre de dos hijos. Me mayor hijo es nombre Devon y me minor hijo is Jamie. Devon es diez y ocho anos y Jamie es quince anos. Me esposo is Larry y matrimonio por veinte y dos anos. Now you see why I'm joining this group - I need help smile.

Gracious

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
0
votes

I have no difficulty with saying "I found myself in ..." but, looking at the preceding, I think Lazarus would say "pronominal verb".

See, this is why I try to avoid all the analysis. To me, "I found myself in..." is most certainly reflexive, although I don't know what Master Laz will have to say about it.

I found myself in a difficult spot.
Me encontré en un apuro.

However, this is very different from "Me encontré con él en la tienda," which would be "I ran into him at the store," and while Lazarus will probably say this is not reflexive, I think we can consider it to be a kind of reflexive, as samdie implies, with the literal meaning of "I found myself with him at the store." Of course, that isn't the natural translation, but we can think of it like that.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by 00bacfba
0
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Natasha said:

samdie said:

Quentin said:

So what was the "verb neuter"?

While waiting for Lazarus to revisit this tread, I'll venture (that's for Heidita) a guess. I'ts what (probably "antiquated" textbooks) referred to as the "impersonal". e.g. ¨¨ÿn españa se dice que...¨/¨No se sabe si..."

Well, OK, but how does that relate to the verb encontrar?


I have no difficulty with saying "I found myself in ..." but, looking at the preceding, I think Lazarus would say "pronominal verb". Once again, I suppose, we have to wait and see.

updated SEP 5, 2008
posted by samdie
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