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I'm curious about the meaning of в самом себе.

On its own, does it mean in itself, but in different contexts it can take on different meanings?

For example, in a sentence like Ищите причину неудач в самом себе, the meaning changes to in yourself?

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On its own, в самом себе means within oneself. There can be changes in gender (feminine: в самой себе) and in number (plural: в самих себе). Your example is an imperative sentence referring to you (вы, a polite form).

Ищите причину неудач в самом себе. (Find the reason of your misfortune/failure within yourself.)

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It means "in the subject of this sentence". In your example, the subject is the person who is supposed to look for the reason, so, "yourself" is the right translation. When used without imperative it would be like "Я ищу причину неудач в самом себе" — "Я" is the subject, so, I'm looking for the reason in myself.

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    I would probably put it as "within myself/yourself/oneself".. – tum_ Jun 30 '16 at 10:24
  • Is there a subject in the imperative sentence of this kind? – V.V. Jun 30 '16 at 19:43
  • @V.V., implicit second person? – bipll Jul 1 '16 at 2:28
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but in different contexts it can take on different meanings?

No! It always means the same thing - the source of the mentioned action. You have to translate it differently because of different usage of words "сам" and "self" in Russian and Englisch respectively. You can say neither *"I did it self" nor *"You did it self" nor *"He did it self". You must always mention whose "self" did it: myself, yourself or himself. That's how English "self" works.

In Russian you say "Я сделал это сам", "Ты сделал это сам" or "Он сделал это сам". Note that it's always "сам" and you must not specify whose "сам" it was (and I think it's even not possible in Russian). That's how Russian "сам" works.

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  • Я сделал это сам ~ Это сделал я, сам. Это сделали они, сами. It look's like closest equivalents to to myself etc. Or it may also be like: Я сам это сделал. – MolbOrg Jun 30 '16 at 19:04
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It actually never means "in itself", because it always applies to an animate subject. Could be "[with]in yourself", "[with]in myself" or "[with]in oneself", as another answer put it, "in the subject of this sentence".

As for "in itself", I don't think, there is actually a matching reflective pronoun in Russian, that could be properly applied to an inanimate subject. So, there would not be an exact literal translation in this case, although there are many possible variations. For example, one could translate something like "Ответ содержится в самом вопросе" as "The answer is in the question itself".

Re. reflective pronouns, you can actually say something like "Пустыня отвоевала для себя часть территории у моря" - Dessert won some of the territory from the seа for itself. But I would still say, that here the dessert is being considered like an animate object in some metaphorical sense.

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  • само собой, само по себе are good enough to translate meaning of itself. Они заметили что, территория пустыни расширилась сама по себе, но в силу каких обстоятельств или сама собой - то бушменам было не ведомо – MolbOrg Jun 30 '16 at 19:10
  • @MolbOrg Who was asking about translating meaning of "itself" by itself (pun intended)? – Dima Jun 30 '16 at 19:11
  • Just as note, or example. Someone do not have to animate objects to be able to use word "сам" or it's impersonal forms. Maybe I do misunderstand use cases of word "itself" in english, by myself itself. So, I do not insist, not competent enough for that. – MolbOrg Jun 30 '16 at 19:48
  • Ну, почему же нет в русском языке местоимения для itself? Собака гуляла сама по себе, без хозяина. – V.V. Jun 30 '16 at 19:54
  • @V.V. Во-первых, "собака" - это одушевленный предмет, а я про неодушевленные говорил. А во-вторых, "сама по себе" - это наречие, а не местоимение ;) – Dima Jun 30 '16 at 19:58

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