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A Handbook of the English Language by Latham

After a neuter or intransitive verb


_Ye

strike you_ is the same.

_They strike them_ is ambiguous.

This shows the value of a reflective pronoun for the third person.

As a general rule, therefore, whenever we use a verb reflectively we use the word _self_ in combination with the personal pronoun.

Yet this was not always the case. The use of the simple personal pronoun was current in Anglo-Saxon, and that, not only for the first two persons, but for the third as well.

The exceptions to this rule are either poetical expressions, or imperative moods.

He sat _him_ down at a pillar's base.--BYRON.

Sit thee down.

s. 442. _Reflective neuters._--In the phrase _I strike me_, the verb _strike_ is transitive; in other words, the word _me_ expresses the object of an action, and the meaning is different from the meaning of the simple expression _I strike_.

In the phrase _I fear me_ (used by Lord Campbell in his lives of the Chancellors), the verb _fear_ is intransitive or neuter; in other words, the word _me_ (unless, indeed, _fear_ mean _terrify_), expresses no object of any action at all; whilst the meaning is the same as in the simple expression _I fear_.

Here the reflective pronoun

appears out of place, i.e., after a neuter or intransitive verb.

Such a use, however, is but the fragment of an extensive system of reflective verbs thus formed, developed in different degrees in the different Gothic languages; but in all more than in the English.

s. 443. _Equivocal reflectives._--The proper place of the reflective is _after_ the verb.

The proper place of the governing pronoun is, in the indicative and subjunctive moods, _before_ the verb.

Hence in expressions like the preceding there is no doubt as to the power of the pronoun.

The imperative mood, however, sometimes presents a complication. Here the governing person may follow the verb.

_Mount ye_ = either _be mounted_, or _mount yourselves_. In phrases like this, and in phrases

_Busk ye, busk ye_, my bonny, bonny bride, _Busk ye, busk ye_, my winsome marrow,

the construction is ambiguous. _Ye_ may either be a nominative case governing the verb _busk_, or an accusative case governed by it.

This is an instance of what may be called the _equivocal reflective_.

* * * * *

CHAPTER VI.

ON THE SYNTAX OF THE DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS, AND THE PRONOUNS OF THE THIRD PERSON.

s. 444. As _his_ and _her_ are genitive cases (and not adjectives), there is no need of explaining such combinations as _his mother_, _her father_, inasmuch as no concord of gender is expected. The expressions are respectively equivalent to

_mater ejus_, not _mater sua_; _pater ejus_, -- _pater suus_.

s. 445. It has been stated that _its_ is a secondary genitive, and it may be added, that it is of late origin in the language. The Anglo-Saxon form was _his_, the genitive of _he_ for the neuter and masculine equally. Hence, when, in the old writers, we meet _his_, where we expect _its_, we must not suppose that any personification takes place, but simply that the old genitive common to the two genders is used in preference to the modern one limited to the neuter, and irregularly formed.


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