How Do You Use the Latin Intensive Pronoun 'Ipse' ('Self')?

Ipso fact, I myself, they themselves: These all have intensive pronouns

Intensive pronouns in Latin function much as they do in English: They intensify the action or the noun they modify.

For example, in English we would say, The experts themselves say it is so. The intensive pronoun "themselves" intensifies the action, with the inference that if the experts are saying it, it must be correct.

The intensive pronoun in the following Latin sentence, Antonius ipse me laudavit, means "Antonius himself praised me." In both Latin (ipse) and English (himself), the pronoun is an intensifier.

Ipso Facto

The expression "ipso facto" is perhaps the best-known remnant in English of the Latin intensive pronoun. In Latin, the intensive pronoun ipso is masculine in agreement with facto and 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." "Ipso facto," thus, 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:

1. They intensify (thus, their name) the function or the noun they modify.

2. 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. 

3. But they can also translate in English as "the very..." as in femina ipsa... ("the very woman" as an alternative to "the woman herself").

3. Latin intensive pronouns double as adjectives and take the same form when doing so. 

4. They 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 own, her own, its own, 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.

This means 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