A reciprocal pronoun is a
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun ( abbreviated ) is a word or a group of words that one may substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not ...
that indicates a reciprocal relationship. A reciprocal pronoun can be used for one of the participants of a
reciprocal construction A reciprocal construction (abbreviated ) is a grammatical pattern in which each of the participants occupies both the role of agent and patient with respect to the other. An example is the English sentence ''John and Mary criticized each ot ...
, i.e. a clause in which two participants are in a mutual relationship. The reciprocal pronouns of English are ''one another'' and ''each other'', and they form the category of
anaphor In linguistics, anaphora () is the use of an expression whose interpretation depends upon another expression in context (its antecedent or postcedent). In a narrower sense, anaphora is the use of an expression that depends specifically upon an a ...
s along with
reflexive pronoun A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that refers to another noun or pronoun (its antecedent) within the same sentence. In the English language specifically, a reflexive pronoun will end in ''-self'' or ''-selves'', and refer to a previously n ...
s (''myself'', ''yourselves'', ''themselves,'' etc.).

Defining properties

Semantics of reciprocal relation

Reflexive pronouns are used similarly to reciprocal pronouns in the sense that they typically refer back to the subject of the sentence. (1) ''John and Mary like themselves.'' (2) ''John and Mary like each other.'' The main difference between reflexives, as in example (1), and reciprocal pronouns, as in example (2), is that reflexives are used when the subject acts upon itself, while reciprocals are used when members of a group perform the same action relative to one another. Reciprocal pronouns exist in many languages. They are associated with plural noun phrases and indicate a reciprocal relationship between the members of the plural noun phrase. This means that some member (x) of the plural subject is acting on another member (y) of the subject, and that member (y) is also acting on (x), and that both x and y are members of the group denoted by the antecedent subject. Below are examples of reciprocal pronouns and how their relationship to their antecedents contrasts to cases of reflexive pronoun relationships, and regular transitive relationships, and how they behave in relation to direct object pronouns in the same situation. Let R denote a Relation, and let the variables (for example, (x, y) ) stand for the arguments introduced by R. Therefore, we can look at a reciprocal relationship using this notation, using the verb ''see'' as the relation: see(Anne, Betty) and see(Betty, Anne).

Syntax of reciprocals as anaphors

Within the theory of
generative grammar Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics as the study of a hypothesised innate grammatical structure. It is a biological or biologistic modification of earlier structuralist theories of linguisti ...
, and within phrase-structure grammar, binding theory explains how
anaphor In linguistics, anaphora () is the use of an expression whose interpretation depends upon another expression in context (its antecedent or postcedent). In a narrower sense, anaphora is the use of an expression that depends specifically upon an a ...
s share a relationship with their referents. Binding Principle A of this theory states: #X binds Y if and only if X
c-command In generative grammar and related frameworks, a node in a parse tree c-commands its sister node and all of its sister's descendants. In these frameworks, c-command plays a central role in defining and constraining operations such as syntactic mo ...
s Y, and X and Y are coindexed, #Anaphors must be locally bound within the binding domain of the clause containing the DP
determiner phrase In linguistics, a determiner phrase (DP) is a type of phrase headed by a determiner such as ''many''. Controversially, many approaches, take a phrase like ''not very many apples'' to be a DP, headed, in this case, by the determiner ''many''. This is ...
. In the traditional binding theory, the category of anaphor includes both reflexive and reciprocal pronouns of English, which is a problem, since they are distributed differently. The differences in the distribution of reflexives and reciprocals are illustrated below using
X-bar theory In linguistics, X-bar theory is a model of phrase-structure grammar and a theory of syntactic category formation that was first proposed by Noam Chomsky in 1970Chomsky, Noam (1970). Remarks on Nominalization. In: R. Jacobs and P. Rosenbaum (eds.) ...
tree diagrams.

Distribution of reciprocals: Lebeaux (1983)

Although both reciprocal and reflexive pronouns are classified as anaphors, they differ in distribution. For example, reciprocal pronouns can appear in the subject position of noun phrases, whereas reflexives cannot. (3) a. ''John and Mary like each other's parents.'' b. *''John and Mary like themselves' parents.'' (4) a. ''All of the students would know if each other had the answers.'' b. *''All of the students would know if themselves had the answers.'' In example (4b) with the reflexive anaphor, the embedded clause's
complementizer In linguistics (especially generative grammar), complementizer or complementiser (glossing abbreviation: ) is a functional category (part of speech) that includes those words that can be used to turn a clause into the subject or object of a s ...
phrase (CP) beginning with the word "if", cannot introduce a subject noun phrase. Although in many cases, either a reflexive or a reciprocal pronoun could appear in the same structural position, in some cases, the asymmetry occurs when a reciprocal may be bound to its antecedent, but a reflexive may not. The following examples from Lebeaux (1983) show that in some sentences, either type of anaphor could be used: (5) a. ''John and Mary like themselves.'' b. ''John and Mary like each other.'' Both the reflexive pronoun in (5a) and the reciprocal pronoun in (5b) can be locally bound (its antecedent is in the same clause, the clause is the
binding domain In molecular biology, binding domain is a protein domain which binds to a specific atom or molecule, such as calcium or DNA. A protein domain is a part of a protein sequence and a tertiary structure that can change or evolve, function, and liv ...
), which would follow binding theory's binding principle A: that an anaphor must be bound in its binding domain). A case in which we can see the differences in the distribution of reflexive and reciprocal pronouns is in the subject position of embedded clauses: reflexives cannot occur in this position (6a), but reciprocals can (6b). (6) a. *''John and Mary think that themselves will win.'' b. ''John and Mary think that each other will win.'' As we can see in the X-bar theory tree diagram of (6b), the reciprocal pronoun is in the subject position of the embedded clause, which is introduced by complementizer "that". It is not possible for a reflexive pronoun to occur in this position as shown by the ungrammaticality of (6a). In this case, the reciprocal pronoun is not necessarily the ideal construction, but the reflexive is not a possible grammatical sentence. This suggests that while reflexives require a proper binder, reciprocals may appear in positions that are not governed this way, and can even be in a different clause than the antecedent. The differences can be summarized as follows: *Reciprocals are subject to binding theory; *Reflexives are subject to binding theory, ''and'' must be properly governed.

Variation in the realization of reciprocals

Syntactically, reciprocals can be realized as free or bound pronouns, as NP arguments or as verbal affixes.

Free pronoun

Person-marked free pronoun

These have a similar pattern to personal pronouns, as they are morphemes independent from the verb (and not
clitic In morphology and syntax, a clitic (, backformed from Greek "leaning" or "enclitic"Crystal, David. ''A First Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics''. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1980. Print.) is a morpheme that has syntactic characteristics of a w ...
s, or inflection markers). They possess person
features Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software ite ...
: the reciprocal pronoun surfaces differently when its antecedent is first-, second- or third-person. These are common in the Chadic language
Hausa Hausa may refer to: * Hausa people, an ethnic group of West Africa * Hausa language, spoken in West Africa * Hausa Kingdoms, a historical collection of Hausa city-states * Hausa (horse) or Dongola horse, an African breed of riding horse See also ...

Person-unmarked free pronoun

Person-unmarked free pronouns occur in languages that do not have distinct forms for all persons. This is commonly found in German. Unlike person-marked pronouns, person-unmarked free pronouns cannot occur in contexts where the pronoun is modifying the noun (i.e. each other's parents), and in contexts where there is a non-subject antecedent (i.e. introduced them to one another).

Bound pronoun

Pronominal affix

Reciprocal pronouns can be affixed to either the verb, or to the auxiliary base, as in Warlpiri:

Pronominal clitic

Reciprocal pronominal clitics are commonly found in the Romance languages. These are seen in French and Spanish as ''se'' and Italian ''si''. In finite clauses, they are preverbal in French, Italian, and Spanish. In nonfinite clauses and infinitive constructions, the clitic follows the verb in Spanish and Italian, but not in French. In the Australian language Wanyi, reciprocal pronominal clitics differentiate between person and number, and can attach to other elements, not restricted to attaching to just the verb.

NP argument

English ''each other'' versus ''each…the other''

Examining the semantic relations of reciprocity, we see further differences within reciprocal relationships, such as those between ''each other'' and ''each...the other'' relations. In general, if it is possible to divide a set (a sentence) into subsets where each subset is an ''each…the other'' relationship, then the whole set of events can be described by an ''each other'' sentence. ''Each other'' constructions characterize an entire set of individuals (as indicated by the plural antecedent), but allow for some vagueness in their interpretation. In contrast, ''each...the other'' constructions characterize each member of a set. Therefore, we can see that ''each other'' does not force a strict distributional interpretation. If we separate ''each'' and ''other'', we can get different interpretations. (7) a. ''The men are hugging each other.'' b. ''Each of the men is hugging the others.'' In (7a) every member of the set ''the men'' must be in some reciprocal relationship of hugging at some unspecified point during the time frame of the hugging event. In (7b), we infer that each of the men hugged every other man in the group of men who participated in the hugging event. In examining the scope of reciprocal pronouns, we can see that in English, the antecedent must be plural and must receive at least a (weakly) distributed interpretation. In viewing ''each other'' as one pronoun, ''each'' is not assigned scope as a quantifier, thus allowing for a weaker distribution. The distributivity of the above example (7b) is not enforced down to the level of all individuals, as opposed to (7a), in which ''each'' as a separate entity and a quantifier enforces strict distributivity.

English ''each other'' versus ''one another''

The other reciprocal pronoun in English is ''one another''. I can be treated exactly the same way as ''each other''. The only difference between the two is the number of antecedent nouns it can encompass. Each other can be used to demonstrate a relationship or action between two subjects, whereas one another can be used to demonstrate a relationship or action between two or more subjects. (8) a. There are two men, they hugged each other. b. *There are three men, they hugged each other. c. There are three men, they hugged one another. (9) a. *John, Mary, and Paul see each other. b. John, Mary and Paul see one another.

Dutch ''elkaar'' versus ''mekaar''

The reciprocal pronouns in Dutch are ''elkaar'' and ''mekaar''. While ''elkaar'' is a single
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. In English, morphemes are often but not necessarily words. Morphemes that stand alone ...
that is equivalent to the English reciprocal pronoun ''each other'', ''mekaar'' is equivalent to the English reciprocal pronoun ''one another''. The difference between the two Dutch reciprocal pronouns is in terms of their use and frequency of use. ''Mekaar'' is used less often, mainly in colloquial speech and in children's speech. Similar to English, Dutch ''elkaar'' requires the antecedent to be in the same clause:

Verbal affix: Chichewa

In English, the reciprocal ''each other'' is a noun phrase that takes an argument position of a syntactic predicate, whereas in Chichewa, the reciprocal is an intransitive verbal affix ''-an''. However, the meaning of the reciprocal is the same in both languages. The reciprocals ''each other'' and ''-an'' both require a group antecedent. The English example in (11a) is interpreted relative to members of the group denoted by the reciprocal antecedent ''the boys''. The same holds of the Chichewa example in (11b): the Chichewa reciprocal likewise requires a group antecedent. :(11) a. ''The boys are hitting each other.''

See also

Reciprocal construction A reciprocal construction (abbreviated ) is a grammatical pattern in which each of the participants occupies both the role of agent and patient with respect to the other. An example is the English sentence ''John and Mary criticized each ot ...
Syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure ( constituenc ...


{{lexical categories, state=collapsed
RECIP:reciprocal pronoun
Grammar Pronouns Personal pronouns Transitivity and valency