The reflexive personal pronoun себя (oneself) refers to the subject of the clause in which it is located. This pronoun occurs in five of the six cases, each indicating different ways the action of the subject is reflected back to it. Since this pronoun reflects the action of the subject, it cannot occur by itself as subject in the nominative case.

Nom. — X

Acc./Gen. – СЕБЯ

Prep./Dat. – СЕБЕ

Instr. – СОБОЙ

For example:

Я себя за это ненавижу. – I hate myself for this. (Accusative)

Он сейчас у себя в комнате. – He is in his room right now. (Genitive)

Она думает только о себе.She thinks only about herself. (Prepositional)

Мы сами сделали себе праздник.We made a holiday for ourselves (on our own). (Dative)

Они собой гордятся. – They are proud of themselves. (Instrumental)

The reflexive pronoun себя can be used with the first, second or third person. In the following examples, notice that the pronoun себя does not change with the person. However, you should think of the person in order to say the same sentence in English.

Я видел себя в зеркале. – I saw myself in the mirror.

Ты видел себя в зеркале. – You saw yourself in the mirror.

Они видели себя в зеркале. – They saw themselves in the mirror.

*Note: The direct object pronoun себя gives reflexive meaning to transitive verbs that are not normally used as reflexives. True reflexive verbs, which typically involve a subject performing an action that directly affects himself, normally do not occur with the direct object себя, but instead are used intransitively with post-verbal -ся.

For example:

Она одевается – She is dressing (herself).

Он моется – Не is washing (himself).

Genitive Case

Я посмотрел вокруг себя. – I looked around myself.

Ты купил подарок для себя? – Did you buy a present for yourself?

Он был вне себя от гнева. – Не was beside himself with rage.

Prepositional Case

Ты думаешь только о себе. – You think only of yourself.

Он всегда имеет при себе деньги. – Не always has money on him.

Она уверена в себе. – She has confidence in herself.

Dative Case

Я купил себе книгу. – I bought a book for myself.

Ты очень требователен к себе. – You are very demanding of yourself.

Instrumental Case

Мы разложили перед собой план города. – We spread the city map before us (ourselves).

Он не мог владеть собой. – Не could not control himself.

Она довольна собой. – She is pleased with herself.

Они спорили между собой. – They argued among themselves.

Pay attention: Russians often use the reflexive pronoun себя when English speakers just use a personal pronoun.

For example:

Возьми меня с собой! – Take me with you!

Она положила сумку рядом с собой. – She put the bag next to her.

*Сам (the emphatic definite pronoun) often goes along with себя:

Я сам себя не слышу. – I don't hear myself.

(себя – masculine, Accusative)

Они сами себе испортили вечеринку. – They ruined their party by themselves.

(себе – plural, Dative)

Она разговаривает сама с собой. – She is talking to herself.

(собой – feminine, Instrumental)

Several verbs combine with a form of the reflexive personal pronoun in fixed expressions, where the reflexive meaning of себя is more abstract or may not be felt at all.

  • 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 (conduct 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 (represent to oneself)
    Раньше он представлял себе Америку раем. – Earlier he imagined America as paradise.

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

Он хороший физик? – Так себе.

Is he a good physicist? – So-so, common or garden-variety.

На дверях магазина написано: «К себе» или «От себя». – On shop doors is written: «Pull» and «Push».

Я подумал про себя. – I thought to myself.

Она очень хороша собою. – 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!


Russian Grammar, James S. Levine, 2009