Hello,

Micheal Swan believes after prepositions of place, we often use a personal pronoun (me, you etc) if the meaning is clear without a reflexive. Compare:

(1): She took her dog with her. (NOT ... with herself.)

(2): They divided the money among them. (NOT ... among themselves)

(3): Close the door behind you.

However, I wonder why the following, although using a prepositions of place, is correct:

(4) He placed his little dog beside himself on the couch.

 

As a matter of fact, I don't know where we cannot use reflexive pronouns.

Original Post

Hi, Freeguy,

In this thread you can find a lot of information to answer your question. David did a great job at the time. Summing up and mostly quoting our moderator's words:

  • Reflexives can be used for emphasis. I think we can say: They didn't share the money with others -- actually, they divided it among themselves.
  • In cases where the pronoun following a preposition is coreferent with the subject of the clause, and the preposition follows the verb of that clause, we use a reflexive if the "verb + preposition" form a phrasal verb: The children can look after themselves.
  • We generally don't use a reflexive when the preposition and pronoun form an adjunct prepositional phrase that stands apart from the verb as a modifier. This would seem to be contradicted by your example (4). However, I think "himself" is required in (4) to make clear that he did not place the dog beside somebody else. If we said:

- He placed his little dog beside him on the couch.

it might be understood that "him" is another person, different from the subject "he."

Freeguy,

I like Gustavo's reply here.  The only thing that I might add is that I don't like your example (2) at all.  I would always use the reflexive "themselves" in this instance, never the simple object pronoun "them".  What made you think that the reflexive would be incorrect here?

DocV

So, themselves is right, isn't it?

That's what I said, and I'm sticking to it.

Gustavo, David, or anyone, I agree that the reflexive works in (4).  However, I would always use the simple object pronoun here:

5: She made her daughter sit beside her at the dinner table.

I'm hard pressed to explain why.  Is there a rule for this, or is it one of those inexplicable idioms?  The construct seems so similar to (4).  But if we use the reflexive in (5), it implies that the girl is sitting next to herself, while her mother might be somewhere else entirely.

Even we experts step in it sometimes.

DocV

Doc V posted:

I would always use the simple object pronoun here:

5: She made her daughter sit beside her at the dinner table.

I'm hard pressed to explain why.  Is there a rule for this, or is it one of those inexplicable idioms?

That's an interesting example, DocV. I think the use of the object pronoun has to do with the causative "made her daughter sit," which includes two actions: She made her daughter do something, and as a result her daughter sat beside her (NOT herself).

However, much as I like to discover rules and even though there are some basic principles (mainly the ones I retrieved from David's post in my answer above), it will ultimately boil down to a per-case decision.

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