Volume 31, No.2 - Summer 1985
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1985 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


The University of Rochester

1. Many Indo-European languages have a class of verbs known as reflexive verbs. A reflexive verb, in short, is a verb in which the subject and the object are the same. In other words, the subject acts upon itself, for itself, for its own interest. E.g.,

I wash myself —'I (the subject) wash me (the object).

However, in Modern English, the true reflexive usage is slowly disappearing, although it survives very well in most other Germanic languages, such as Modern German.

It is in the domain of general knowledge that Modern Lithuanian has preserved, or kept, a great number of the inherited reflexive verbs. Poetically speaking, nearly every Lithuanian transitive (and a great number of intransitive ones!) verb can be used as a reflexive, some, of course, only metaphorically. This gives Lithuanian a rather wide flexibility in expressing not only the action itself, but also the various shades of the attitude of the speaker and/or the subject. It can also contribute to expressing some other degrees of nearness, distance and/or intensity.

The origin of the reflexive verb system is somewhat controversial, and we will not discuss it here.1 On the other hand, from the syntactic point of view, it is quite clear that the basic pattern was already quite well developed in the late Proto-Indo-European.2

2. In Modern Lithuanian, the basic pattern has been developed a long time ago, nemely:







the child'


This latter pattern gives them: Aš prausiuosi — 'I wash myself.'

Although, historically speaking, we have some evidence3 that all three persons (i.e., 'I', 'thou', 'he/she/it', etc.) had, in some languages, their own corresponding reflexive pronouns ('I': mi/men/mei...) 'thou': ti/ten/tei...; 'he' si/sen/sei..., etc.), at an early time, in Baltic and particularly in Lithuanian, these separate personal reflexive pronouns were taken over, or replaced, by one generalized reflexive pronoun: save/sau/si "oneself". Thus,

aš prausiu (save)
tu prausi (save)
jis/ji prausia (save)
mes prausiame (save)
jūs prausiate (save)
jie/jos prausia (save)


aš prausiuosi
tu prausiesi
jis/ji prausiasi
mes prausiamės
jūs prausiatės
jie/jos prausiasi

In other words, the original ("separate") reflexive pronoun save/sau fell together, or coalesced with the inherited "shorter forms" ("non-separate") reflexive pronouns/4particles (i.e., something like *sem/*seu/*sei), to a shorter: -si, or, in allegro speech,5 to -s. In other words, all the reflexive forms can and do end in only -s, in normal rapid speech6:

aš prausiuos
tu prausies
jis prausias

mes prausiamės
jūs prausiatės
jie prausias

  One should mention here one curious development, namely in the future tense:

aš prausiuo(i) (stress on prau-) ('I'll wash myself)
tu prausies(i)
jis/ji prausis
mes prausimės
jūs prausitės
jie/jos prausis

This "curious development" we've mentioned above is, of course, the third person form:7 prausis where the reflexive particle is not the usual -si/-s, but, rather, -is. Most ot the standard reference sources explain this unusual development as follows:8

*praus + si + si > *praussisi > *prausisi

In other words, a double, or reduplicating reflexive particle is assumed.

This is one of the problems we intend to discuss in these "remarks".

Phonologically, this development in the third person future tense is possible. But it cannot be proven. It is also possible to posit a slightly different development, namely:

*praus + si > *praussi >*prausisi

In other words, the 'i' in -is would and could be considered to be an excrescent (also known as inserted, intruding, or parasitic) vowel.9 Similar developments can be easily observed in Lithuanian. Suffice it to mention only one such case. Among the twelve verbal prefixes of Modern Lithuanian(=ap-, at-, į-, iš-, nu-, pa-, par-, per-, pra-, pri-, su-, už-) we can point to the fact that, whenever the first two (i.e., ap- and at-) are added to the verbs (and other words) beginning with the same (type of) consonants, the excrescent -i- is inserted:

ap + pūti
ap + bėgti
at + tekti 
at + duoti 



'to mold around'
'to circle (running)'
'to fall to'
'to give back'.

What happens here is exactly the same phenomenon as in prausis: -ss > -sis.

3. The declensional paradigm of the independent (or separate, or emphatic) reflexive pronoun in Modern Lithuanian is now as follows:

N. ———
G. savęs
D. sau
A. save
I. savimi
L. savyje
Voc. ———

It is quite clear from this that the two modern reflexive pronoun forms, save (=Accusative/Direct Object) and sau (=Dative) cannot be "reduced" or shortened to the one reflexive particle -si/-s/-is. This means that, in the olden days, these reflexive forms were different. There is evidence10 that the ancient form of the accusative case may have been *sen (<*sem) and that of the dative may have been *sei (from *se + ei, or *se + oi, or *se+i). Later on, both of these forms became identical, in the following way:








Let us illustrate this change, or shift, together with the verbal root:

a) (Accus.) eš *suko + se   > aš sukuosi ('I turn around')
b) (Dat.)    eš *velko + sei  > aš velkuosi ('I get dressed').

In terms of transformation—generative grammar (for short: T/G-grammar), these two originally separate phrases fell together as one in the surface structure. Thus, even in the deep structure (whatever that may be) some reflexive verbs became ambiguous as well. The result is that now, in Modern Lithuanian, some of these verbs can go with the accusative construction. E.g.,

a. Jis sukosi ("suko save", accus. refl.) vis greičiau ir greičiau
('He twisted around faster and faster')

    Jis vilkosi ("Vilko save", accus. refl.) naujais drabužiais.
('He was getting dressed in/with new clothes').

But it is also possible to say:

b. Jis sukosi ("suko sau", Dat. refl.) cigaretę.
('He rolled a cigarette for himself)

    Jis vilkosi ("vilko sau", Dat. refl.) švarką.
('He put on a jacket').

Thus, from the diachronic (historical) point of view, the underlying forms can be clearly distinguished, only the surface structure forms have become identical, and the result is some confusion.

4. But as always in such cases where factors such as analogy, leveling, or folk etymology11 have interfered with language patterns, or systems, only certain verbs were affected. In this case the affected verbs are, primarily, action transitive verbs, with a wide range of meanings. Some examples:

Transitive verb
('to turn, twist')
('to drag')
('to build) 
('to burn')
etc., etc.

suktis ('to turn around')
vilktis ('to get dressed')
statytis ('to fancy oneself)
degtis ('to start fire') 

suktis ('to roll')
vilktis ('to put on')
statytis ('to build for oneself)
degtis ('to light for oneself)

Since in Modern Lithuanian, as we have alluded to earlier, theoretically almost every verb can take all or some of the inherited/permanent verbal prefixed (see above)12, every verb may have many meanings, and shades of meanings. (Normally, a native speaker can use these prefixed verbs with complete assurance, but in Lithuanian dialects, this varies considerably). Many of these prefixed verbs can also be used as reflexives, with some radical change in meaning, or only with some subtle modifications. Let us take only one example: the verb pirkti ('to buy/purchase').13



pirkti 'to buy/purchase' 

pirktis 'to buy (for oneself)'


apipirkti 'to provide (by buying)'
atpirkti 'to redeem'
įpirkti 'to be able to buy'
išpirkti 'to buy out' 
nupirkti 'to purchase' 
papirkti 'to bribe'
parpirkti (seldom used)
perpirkti (seldom used)
prapirkti 'to spend (buying)'
pripirkti 'to amass (by buying)
supirkti 'to gather'
užpirkti 'to order 
              (in advance)'

apsipirkti 'to complete shopping'
atsipirkti 'to redeem oneself
įsipirkti 'to buy into'
išsipirkti 'to redeem oneself
nusipirkti 'to acquire'
pasipirkti 'to do some shopping'
parsipirkti (seldom used)
persipirkti 'to spend too much'
prasipirkti 'to go broke'
prisipirkti 'to amass'
susipirkti 'to gather/amass'
užsipirkti 'to order
                 (in advance)'

 (In certain idiomatic and special phrases many of these verbs may have all kinds of shades/nuances of meaning).

Now, some of these prefixed reflexives can be and are used in their two basic "functions": one, like true (=accusative) reflexives, in which case they cannot govern (another) accusative case; some of these verbs can be used both as a true (=accusative) reflexive and as a dative-reflexive, in which case they can have a transitive meaning and, thus govern an accusative case (+a direct object).

5. Finally, there is a small group of reflexive verbs in Modern Lithuanian which, without the prefixes, can be used only as reflexives.14 Various sources list them as follows:15


'to look around'
'to be proud of
'to be interested in sm.'
'to be happy ab. sm.'
'to laugh'
'to set out to'
'to (begin to) grin'
'to smile

Naturally, these reflexives will never take another accusative since, in this case, there is no chance for any confusion in the deep structure, as it were. But even these verbs, as it is well known, can occur as non-reflexives with certain of those twelve verbal prefixes. E.g., juoktis, 'to laugh' (only used as reflexive!) and pajuokti, 'to ridicule', etc., etc.

6. Last but not least, there is another group of reflexive verbs in Modern Lithuanian which cannot be confused because both their reflexive and non-reflexive forms have the same meaning. E.g.,


'to lie down'
'to kneel'
'to sit down'
'to stand up'17


1 Most of the Indo-Europeanists consider the reflexive verbal systems of the Indo-European languages, ancient and modern, a replacement of the so-called medial, or semi-passive voice of late Proto-Indo-European. As with many such problems concerning the reconstructed (posited, assumed, imagined) Proto-Indo-European, it is, basically, a matter of "faith".
2 In other words, no matter how one may want to understand its origin and its development, the basic pattern remains the same: verb + reflexive pronoun. In many living Indo-European languages, there are now certain systems of reflexive verbs. In some (like in Modern Lithuanian) almost all non-reflexive verbs may be used reflexively; in some (like in Modern English), very few reflexive verbal forms are used. Furthermore, in Modern English, there is a growing tendency to replace every reflexive expression with a non-reflexive structure.
3 This is especially clear in the so-called "older" Indo-European languages. Since the term "older" may be misleading, the term "archaic", "more archaic" could be used: i.e., in such language families, or branches, as Germanic, Romance (Italic), Baltic, and Slavic.
4 Haplology is the term used both in synchronic as well as the diochronic linguistics. It simply means that some segment of the speech (or language) is left out: a sound, a syllable, even a word.
5 Allegro speech
is the normal (native) conversational speed of speech. Sometimes, it may mean "faster than normal." Some linguists consider the so-called allegro rules as very important for language change.
6 For the most detailed presentation in English, cf. Leonardas Dambriūnas, Antanas Klimas, William R. Schmalstieg, Introduction to Modern Lithuanian (1966) 1972; 1980). See the appropriate passages in the text itself and in the grammar appendix. The most detailed presentation in Lithuanian can be found in the Academy Grammar: Lietuvių kalbos gramatika, vol. 2, pp. 186 cf.
7 Generally speaking, the very basic (i.e., non-reflexive) form of this third person future in Lithuanian is controversial; some linguists, like the 19th century Neo-Grammarians, used to consider this form to be an abbreviation of the originally longer form. Recently, however, the talented and outstanding Lithuanian linguist, the late Professor Jonas Kazlauskas (1930-1970) argued convincingly that this Lithuanian form is a truly primordial, ancient form, i.e., pure root, with no decinences added. Cf. Jonas Kazlauskas, Lietuviu kalbos istorinė gramatika, Vilnius, 1968, pp. 365 ff.
8 Lietuvių kalbos gramatika,
op. cit., pp. 186 ff.
9 An excrescent sound, also known as a sporadic, additional, or even parasitic sound is a sound which appears in certain circumstances due to various needs and ways of articulation. E.g., English Spain and Spanish Espana; English state and Spanish estado, both derived from the same two late Latin roots with the initial consonant clusters sp-/st-. Thus, Spanish initial e- (in Espana and estado) is considered an excrescent (or epenthetic) sound, vowel in this case. On the other hand, the -t- in English sister, German Schwester (and even Russian sestra) is an excrescent consonant because it did not exist in Proto-Indo-European, cf. Latin soror (from an older *sosor/*soser), Lith. sesuo (pl. seserys, Old. Lith. seseres), etc.
10 The accusative form (Proto-Indo-European *sem Baltic *sen which later became *sę, then was shortened to se, later raised to si) is quite clear. To reconstruct the specific dative (indirect object; as it were) form is much more complicated. For all of this, cf. any comparative grammar of Indo-European.
11 Some linguists are inclined to believe that, in the long run, analogy may have been the most important reason, or cause which led, on the one hand, to various changes or, rather, to the spread of various changes; on the other hand, it was a great force of stabilization, leading to a certain regularity, even uniformity.
12 For a rather detailed treatment of these twelve verbal prefixes, cf. Introduction to Modern Lithuanian, op. cit., pp. 378-389.
13 This question, namely which verbs may take all twelve prefixes and which ones will select only one, or several, is a very complicated one. To add insult to injury, as it were, each of the prefixes has many meanings. (In English, a similar situation arises with the so-called compound verbs and their various "suffixes". Just imagine the almost unlimited range of the particle/preposition/adverb up: to be up, to get up, to give up, to drink up, to head up and hundreds of other usages).
14 Historically, all of these (i.e., reflexive only) verbs must have had a non-reflexive basic verb. Apparently, the derived reflexive became more important, more frequently used, and the basic (non-reflexive) verb was given up. One of the clearest presentations of this case is the following article: Jonas Kazlauskas, "Lith. džiaũgtis (to be glad, to rejoice at' and its Cognotes" Donum Balticum, Stockholm, 1970, pp. 254-257.
15 Lietuvių kalbos gramatika, op. cit., p. 185 ff.
16 There is also a rather large group of verbs in Lithuanian which cannot be used as reflexives in their basic (i.e., without the prefix) form, but can easily "slip into" the reflexive forms with certain prefixes. E.g., valgyti, 'to eat', is seldom used as valgytis, but such forms as apsivalgyti, 'to eat too much', or prisivalgyti, 'to eat one's fill', are used very frequently.
17 Although these verbs are synonyms in their basic meanings, each pair will also have some special metaphorical, special, poetic usages in which their meaning may be different. It is, indeed, a very complicated semantic/cognitive/stylistic problem. Just one simple example: gulti (non-reflexive) may be used to express, 'to go to bed', but gultis is not used for that.