Does ipse, ipsa, ipsum confuse you? This post tells you everything you need to know about Latin intensive pronouns – with lots of examples.
Latin – just like English – has many different kinds of pronouns. Here we will focus on intensive pronouns, which are sometimes called emphatic pronouns.
In Latin, there is one intensive pronoun: ipse, ipsa, ipsum. Let’s explore its various meanings and translations!
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What are intensive pronouns?
Intensive pronouns intensify the meaning of a noun or another pronoun. This sounds a bit intimidating in the abstract, but a few examples will clear things up.
The intensive pronouns in English are myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves.
The queen herself cooked dinner.
The guests said they would do it themselves.
I’m not mad about the money itself – it’s the principle of the thing.
In the first example, the intensive pronoun “herself” emphasizes that it is in fact the queen, and no one else, who cooked dinner. There is an element of surprise, since we might not expect a queen to prepare her own dinner. The pronoun adds the necessary intensity.
The second sentence is similar in meaning. The guests insists that they will perform a certain action – they, and no one else. The intensive pronoun “themselves” conveys this nuance.
Finally, the third sentence employs an intensive pronoun, “itself,” to distinguish what is the true motive for the speaker’s anger. The money, in and of itself, isn’t the issue, and the pronoun clarifies this emphasis.
As these three examples demonstrate, intensive pronouns point to a person, place, or thing and emphasize it. This is why intensive pronouns are also known as emphatic pronouns.
Intensive vs. reflexive pronouns
Before we move on to intensive pronouns in Latin, I want to address a potential point of confusion. In English, as we saw above, intensive pronouns are expressed by adding “self” or “selves” to personal pronouns.
The problem is that – in English – intensive pronouns have the same form as reflexive pronouns. This is not the case in Latin; Latin has entirely separate words for reflexive vs. intensive pronouns. But often English speakers struggle to distinguish the two types of pronoun.
If you aren’t sure what Latin reflexive pronouns are, then you can go check out my post on that topic. But here I will give you a few tips for distinguishing the pronouns in English.
As discussed up above, intensive pronouns emphasize a certain person, place, or thing. Reflexive pronouns, on the other hand, are used when the subject of the sentence does something that affects itself.
The queen herself made dinner. (intensive)
The queen made dinner for herself. (reflexive)
The first example is the sentence we saw up above. It emphasizes that the queen is the one who made dinner. “Herself” is an intensive pronoun.
In the second sentence, there is no emphasis on the identity of the person making dinner. Instead, we learn who the queen was making dinner for: herself. “Herself” is a reflexive pronoun, because the queen is the subject, the one making dinner, but also the indirect object, the one for whom dinner is made.
Whenever you see “self” or “selves” in English, pause and think about the meaning of the sentence. This will help you to distinguish between intensive and reflexive pronouns.
Latin Intensive Pronouns
In Latin, the intensive pronoun is ipse, ipsa, ipsum. It applies to all three grammatical persons. In other words, the same pronoun can mean “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” etc. based on the context.
Because Latin nouns have gender, number, and case, the intensive pronoun must also have gender, number, and case. The intensive pronoun will have the same gender, number, and case as the noun or pronoun that it emphasizes.
The following chart displays the full declension of ipse, ipsa, ipsum. In the next section of this post, we will see these forms in action.
Fortunately, ipse, ipsa, ipsum has familiar case endings. Aside from the irregular genitive and dative singular, the intensive pronoun follows 1st and 2nd declension noun endings. This is good news, because it means less memorization for you.
Example Sentences with Ipse, ipsa, ipsum
Latin intensive pronouns can be used both substantively (like a noun) or adjectivally (like an adjective).
In English we usually translate intensive pronouns with “self” or “selves”, but sometimes it is easier to express the emphasis with other phrases. Examples are “very”, “mere”, “in person,” etc. Pay attention to the range of translations below.
Ego ipse nesciō. = I myself (masculine) do not know.
Rēs ipsa prō mē loquitur. = The very situation / the situation itself speaks on my behalf.
Ipsum, quod vēnī, nōn satis est? = The mere fact that I came isn’t enough?
Ipsī malī tē culpābunt. = Even bad people / the bad people themselves will blame you.
Cūr ipsae id nōn facitis? = Why don’t you do it yourselves / on your own (feminine)?
Erāmus in hortō ipsīus imperātōris. = We were in the emperor’s own garden / in the garden of the emperor himself.
Ipsīus factī mē pudet. = I’m ashamed of the mere deed / of the deed itself.
Puellae clāmant quod ursus cibum ipsārum et mātris ēst. = The girls shout because a bear is eating their own and their mother’s food.
Tibi ipsī pecūnia est. = You yourself have money. (dative of possession)
Nautīs ipsīs vēritātem dīxī. = I told the truth to the sailors themselves.
Quem quaeris? – Tē ipsum. = Who are you looking for? – You yourself.
Dīxērunt sē ipsās nōn ventūrās esse. = They said that they themselves (feminine) would not come.
Saxum dē ipsō vertice montis cecidit. = The rock fell from the very summit of the mountain.
In illīs ipsīs librīs sunt multae fābulae. = In those very books are many stories.
Ipse can also emphasize the pre-eminent person in a given circumstance. This can be the master of a household, the host of a dinner, or even an influential teacher.
- Ipse dīxit. = The master said it.
I hope that Latin intensive pronouns make more sense to you! Now you can understand the meaning of the common phrase ipsō factō: “by the very fact” or “by the fact itself.”
Merriam-Webster defines ipso facto as meaning “as an inevitable result” or “unavoidably.” So, for instance, I could say, “Possessing natural talent for languages does not, ipso facto, ensure success; you have to work for it.”
One more thing. In this post I have discussed the primary uses of the intensive pronoun ipse, ipsa, ipsum. But, as is typical with languages, things are not always so clear-cut. Intensive pronouns can sometimes substitute for reflexive pronouns in Latin, especially late Latin (I know, uggh, why?).
Don’t worry about the tiny details now. As you continue to read Latin, you will gradually get more and more comfortable with intensive pronouns and their nuances. If you want a bit more information, you can look at §298 of Allen and Greenough’s, my favorite Latin grammar.
Now you know all about intensive pronouns, but how do you feel about personal pronouns? If you need a refresher, I recommend that you read this post.
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