I was talking to an American gal who teaches Swedish (in the US) the other day and there was one thing she said that just stopped me dead in my tracks. And that was “själv is a reflexive pronoun.” What? Please don’t tell me this is what teachers of Swedish in the US tell their students!
While “själv” may indeed look like a reflexive pronoun, especially when it’s translated into English, it most definitely is not. It’s just a word used for emphasis that someone performed a certain action all by him/herself. Unfortunately, because of this “himself, herself, myself, etc” bit, it frequently gets mistaken for a reflexive pronoun.
So how does this “själv” work in Swedish? Like this:
- Jag kan göra det själv. – I can do it myself.
And now for a real reflexive pronoun:
- Jag har skurit mig. – I have cut myself.
The first one simply emphasizes that I can do whatever it is that I’m supposed to do all by myself, just like a big girl should.
This example is a little bit different, but it also shows you what this “själv” is all about:
- Han älskar bara sig själv. – He only loves himself.
There you have both “sig” and “själv” and yes, I know it can be confusing, but it’s really very logical, especially when you see “själv” as part of compound words.
Actually, I think it’s the easiest way to figure out what “själv” is all about – by seeing how it’s translated when used in compound words, like these:
- självbetjäning – self-service
- självdisciplin – self-discipline
- självkritik – self-criticism
- självförtroende – self-confidence
Can you see the difference now between “själv” and a real reflexive pronoun?
And oh yeah, I almost forgot. When talking about plural, then “själv” becomes “själva”, like this:
- Studenterna själva ordnade festen. – The students themselves arranged the party.