The Pronoun Si: Then and Now
Grammatically speaking, the pronouns si and consigo belong to the 3rd person subjects: ele(s)/ela(s). This is because they were initially only used as reflexive pronouns*, which are pronouns that refer to the same subject or thing as the verb. For example:
Ele levou a mala consigo He took the suitcase with him
*We’ll talk more about reflexive tonic pronouns in an upcoming Learning Note, but you can read more about reflexive clitic pronouns here.
The sentence above is still correct and wouldn’t be confusing because the context makes it clear who consigo refers to. Nowadays, however, it’s more common to see si and consigo used with 2nd person formal subjects. Si and consigo can replace você, as using você in European Portuguese can sometimes be seen as disrespectful or too intense. For example:
Isto é para si This is for you
Eu vou consigo I'll go with you
How Do I Know When Si is Being Used Reflexively or Not?
Since si and consigo are no longer used (only) as reflexive pronouns, this creates some ambiguity. Luckily there are many common ways to make it clear who you’re referring to.
Take a look at the following sentence:
Ele falou de si
What’s the translation here?
- Is si reflexive and referring to ele (“He talked about himself“)?
- Does si refer to someone else (“He talked about her“)?
- Does si refer to você (“He talked about you(formal)”)?
Given what we just learned, if you guessed você, you’re probably right. Nowadays, that’s what it typically stands for, but this wasn’t always the case. Thus, to make it clear that si or consigo are being used reflexively, especially if it’s not clear from the context, you should add the words mesmo or próprio.
Ele falou de si He talked about youformal
Ele falou de si próprio. He talked about himself.
Ele está preocupado consigo. He's worried about you.
Ele está preocupado consigo mesmo. He's worried about himself.
On the other hand, if you wanted to refer to someone else and avoid ambiguity, you would probably say:
Ele falou dele He talked about him or Ele falou dela He talked about her
Emphatic Use of Si
Similar to ele(s)/ela(s), si is often used along with the clitic pronoun lhe, as way of emphasizing the indirect object. Remember to include the preposition a to.
O médico receitou-lhe a si este remédio? The doctor prescribed this medicine to you?
O João disse-lhe isso a si. João said that to you.
With both examples, it’s clear who we’re talking about. If you were to remove a si, however, it might be tricky without extra context.
O João disse-lhe isso João said that to...
Did João speak to you or to another person (he/she)? Without adding a si (or having more information), it’s impossible to figure it out.
Si as a Reciprocal Pronoun
Lastly, si can also play the part of a reciprocal pronoun if two people are performing the same action to each other. In this case, we need to add the word entre between, among.
Eles discutiram entre si. They argued with each other.
A Maria e o João trocaram prendas entre si. Mary and John exchanged gifts with each other.