Wild Nihongo!


じぶん Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Reflexive Pronoun

Essential Meaning: Oneself / One’s own~

Construction: Pronoun


  • じぶん (自分じぶん in kanji) is a reflexive pronoun that refers to the subject or topic of the sentence’s main clause. It roughly translates to English reflexive pronouns (i.e. “Oneself“, “Himself“, “Herself“, “One’s“). Grammatically, an antecedent is a person or thing to which a pronoun refers; the antecedent must be introduced into the sentence as the topic or subject before it can be referred to reflexively by 自分じぶん. Depending on the context, 自分じぶん can be interpreted as a contrastive marker (i.e. contrasting the antecedent with other individuals) or an empathy marker (i.e. expressing empathy or fondness with the antecedent).
    • E.g. メアリーは自分じぶんでなんでもする。[Mary does everything herself.] In this example, Mary is the topic of the sentence and 自分じぶん refers reflexively to her.
  • 自分じぶん as a contrastive marker:
    • If one the following three conditions is met, 自分じぶん takes a contrastive meaning (i.e. it contrasts the subject / topic with other individuals).
      • (1) The antecedent is an agent (i.e. an individual who willfully and actively initiates or completes some action)
        • E.g. マイクはいつも自分じぶん部屋へや勉強べんきょうしている。[Mike is always studying in his dorm room (in contrast to someone else’s dorm room).] Mike is an individual who willfully performs the action of studying, so 自分じぶん takes a contrastive interpretation.
      • (2) The subject is generic (e.g. “Japanese People“, “Oneself“)
        • E.g. 自分じぶんることが一番いちばんむずかしい。[To know oneself (in contrast to knowing others) is the most difficult thing.] The sentence refers to “oneself” in a generic sense, so 自分じぶん take a contrastive interpretation.
      • (3) 自分じぶん cannot be replaced by an implicit or explicit 3rd person pronoun.
        • 一男かずお自分じぶんをはげました。[Kazuo braced himself (in contrast to embracing someone else).] Kazuo can not be eliminated or replaced with a third person pronoun (e.g. かれ [Him]) without altering the meaning of the sentence. This, 自分じぶん takes a contrastive interpretation.
  • 自分じぶん as an empathy marker:
    • If none of the above conditions is met, 自分じぶん takes an empathetic interpretation. In other words, if the antecedent is a non-generic individual and does not willfully and volitionally perform some action, the sentence is not contrastive and simply expresses fondness or empathy for the subject / topic.
    • With the empathetic interpretation of 自分じぶん, the sentence must express a situation where the subject / topic can somehow emphasize with the action or state expressed in the main clause.
      • E.g. 知子ともこ自分じぶんんだあとで子供こども大学だいがくはいった。[After Tomoko died, her child entered university.] After Tomoko is dead, she clearly cannot cognize or emphasize with the act of her child entering university. Thus, this sentence is ungrammatical.
    • E.g. Speaking to Oneself: ジョンは自分じぶん本当ほんとうきなんだろうか。[Does John really like me?] In this example, the speaker is the passive experiencer of John’s love (or so she hopes). Thus, 自分じぶん takes an empathetic interpretation.
    • E.g. 中川なかがわ自分じぶん京大きょうだいはいれるとおもっていなかった。[Mr. Nakagawa didn’t think that he could get into Kyoto University.] In this case, getting into Kyoto University is not something that Nakagawa has volitional control over. Thus, 自分じぶん takes an empathetic interpretation.
    • E.g. 一郎いちろう冬子ふゆこ自分じぶんいにたときうちにいなかった。[Ichiro wasn’t at home when Fuyuko came to see him.] In this case, Ichiro is the passive experiencer of Fuyuko coming over. Thus, 自分じぶん takes an empathetic interpretation.
    • E.g. ジョンはメアリーのことをおもっていた。彼女かのじょ自分じぶん結婚けっこんしてくれるんだろうか。自分じぶんてて、ボブと結婚けっこんするんだろうか。[John was thinking about Mary. “Is she going to marry me? Is she going to toss me aside and marry Bob?”] In this case, John is the passive experiencer of getting married to and getting dumped (in John’s imagination). Thus, 自分じぶん takes an empathetic interpretation.
  • In some sentences that involve multiple individuals, the person to whom 自分じぶん refers may be ambiguous, and whether 自分じぶん is contrastive or empathetic may also be ambiguous.
    • E.g. 道子みちこ一男かずお自分じぶんくるまかせた。[Michiko made Kazuo go in her car / Michiko made Kazuo go in his own car.] In this sentence, Michiko is the active agent and Kazuo is the passive experiencer (i.e. the one being made to do something). So, if 自分じぶん is referring to the agent Michiko, 自分じぶん should be interpreted contrastively (i.e. “Michiko made Kazuo go in her car (as opposed to his own.”)) If 自分じぶん is referring to the passive experiencer Kazuo, 自分じぶん should be interpreted empathetically (i.e. “Michiko made Kazuo go in his own car.”) It would probably be best to just rewrite this sentence in a less ambiguous way.

Example Sentences:

土田つちだ幸子さちこ自分じぶんあいしていることをらなかった。[Tsuchida didn’t that that Sachiko loved him.]

Speaking to Oneself: ジョンは自分じぶん本当ほんとうきなんだろうか。[Does John really like me?]

日本人にほんじん自分じぶんくに文化ぶんかをユニークだとおもっている。[Japanese people think that their own country’s culture is unique.]

メアリーは自分じぶんでなんでもする。[Mary does everything herself.]

小林こばやし自分じぶんからしたいとった。[Kobayashi said himself (i.e. voluntarily) that he wanted to do it.]

先生せんせいはご自分じぶんいえわたしってくださった。[Sensei kindly met me at his own house.]

WILD Examples:

Listen to this line from 2:32: かんがえすぎで言葉ことばまる、自分じぶん不器用ぶきようさがきらい、でもびょう器用きようう、自分じぶん はそれ以上いじょうきら [I overthink and trip over my words, I hate my awkwardness. Then a second later I my awkwardness under control, and I hate myself even more.]

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