When learning Latin, intensive pronouns function much as they do in English, intensifying the action or the noun they modify.
For example, in English, we might say, "The experts themselves say so." The intensive pronoun "themselves" intensifies the noun "experts," with the implication that if the emphasized experts say so, it must be correct.
The intensive pronoun in the following Latin sentence, Antonius ipse me laudavit, means "Anthony himself praised me." In both Latin ipse and English "himself", the pronoun intensifies or emphasizes the noun.
The expression ipso facto is the best-known remnant in English of the Latin intensive pronoun. In Latin, ipso is masculine and in agreement with facto. It's in the ablative case (ablative indicates that a thing or person is being used as an instrument or tool by another and is translated as "by" or "by means of"). Thus ipso facto means "by that very fact or act; as an inevitable result."
A Few Rules
There are a few generalizations we can make about Latin intensive pronouns:
- They intensify (thus, their name) the function or the noun they modify.
- Latin intensive pronouns typically translate as the English "-self" pronouns: myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself in the singular and ourselves, yourselves and themselves in the plural.
- But they can also translate in English as "the very… " as in femina ipsa… ("the very woman" as an alternative to "the woman herself").
- Latin intensive pronouns double as adjectives and take the same form when doing so.
Intensive vs. Reflexive
Intensive pronouns are often confused with Latin reflexive pronouns, but the two types of pronouns have different functions. Latin reflexive pronouns and adjectives (suus, sua, suum) show possession and translate as "his or her own," "its own," and "their own." The reflexive pronoun must agree with the noun it describes in gender, number, and case, and the pronoun always refers back to the subject. Intensives emphasize other words besides the subject. This means that reflexive pronouns can never be nominative. Intensive pronouns, on the other hand, do not indicate possession. They intensify and they can be any case, including nominative. For example:
- Intensive pronoun: Praefectus honores civibus ipsis dedit. ("The prefect bestowed/gave honors on/to the citizens themselves.")
- Reflexive pronoun: Praefectus honores sibi dedit. ("The prefect bestowed/gave honors on/to himself.)
Declension of Latin Intensive Pronouns
Singular (by case and gender: masculine, feminine, neuter)
- Nominative: ipse, ipsa, ipsum
- Genitive: ipsius, ipsius, ipsius
- Dative: ipsi, ipsi, ipsi
- Accusative: ipsum, ipsam, ipsum
- Ablative: ipso, ipsa, ipso
Plural (by case and gender: masculine, feminine, neuter)
- Nominative: ipsi, ipsae, ipsa
- Genitive: ipsorum, ipsarum, ipsorum
- Dative: ipsis, ipsis, ipsis
- Accusative: ipsos, ipsas, ipsa
- Ablative: ipsis, ipsis, ipsis