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Is there anything that can help to know which to use, i. e. verb + ending ся or verb + себя, or does this differ from verb to verb?

For example I don't know which of these would be correct:

Они именно этот вопрос никогда себе не задают.

Они именно этим вопросом никогда не задаются.

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    Can you, please, be more precise and provide some examples to make you question more illustrative.
    – shabunc
    Jul 10, 2014 at 18:15
  • @shabunc Done...
    – user3538
    Jul 10, 2014 at 18:19
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    thank you! it looks like both examples you've provided are incorrect, the correct form - Они именно этот вопрос никогда себе не задают - or они именно этим вопросом никогда не задаются. Is it possible you are asking about this very difference?
    – shabunc
    Jul 10, 2014 at 18:30
  • @shabunc ah, yes задать вопрос .. and, yes, this difference. It may be differ from verb to verb, but there may be some general rule or so
    – user3538
    Jul 10, 2014 at 22:10
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    Note, that there's another meaning of the particle -ся with many verbs, and that's друг друга (each other, one another), this cannot be substituted with себя or себе: "Они сражаются." - 1. They fight [e.g. for freedom]. 2. They fight with each other. Such verbs+ся usually cannot be substituted with verbs+друг друга. In many verbs -ся has nothing to do with either себя or друг друга, it has no obvious meaning, just marks intransitivity of the verb: "Мы боимся" - We are scared [not of ourselves, naturally]. "Он плюётся." - He spits [at me].
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 10, 2014 at 23:32

3 Answers 3

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Let's consider these:

Они именно вот этот вопрос никогда не спрашивают

Именно вот этот вопрос никогда не спрашиваeтся

So, it looks like the suffix -ся is used in general situations when we don't have somone in particular in mind, but want to specify how it usual was.

As far as the pronoun себя and the suffix '-ся', they're not used the same way. The pronoun is used when you want to say something about yourself, whereas the suffix is used in habitual/general actions.

For example, This question isn't asked, as opposed to No one is asking this particular question = Именно вот этот вопрос никогда не спрашиваeтся

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    "This question is never asked".
    – Anixx
    Jul 20, 2014 at 2:24
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The reflexive suffix -ся can be described as the middle or mediopassive voice.

  • He shaved and brushed his teeth.

Here to shave is used in a way similar to the middle voice. Reflexively. We don't need to specify that he shaved himself.

The reflexive pronoun себя (in the accusative case) represents a specified direct object, which is the agent.

Он побрился is the same as He shaved. Он увидел себя is the same as He saw himself.

As to how to differenciate the cases in which the suffix is used over the pronoun, you really just need to remember which verbs take -ся. They generally have a completely different meaning, so you'll have to learn them by heart anyway.

  • Я увидел себя с ней. - I saw myself with her.
  • Я увиделся с ней. - I met up with her. or I went to see her.
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It’s kinda hard to explain, but I’ll give it a go. -СЯ is a verb ending which is reflexive, meaning that the sufferer of the action is the same as the doer of the action. Let’s use a verb here: брить (to shave). Let’s add our reflexive ending. We get бриться (to shave oneself). So if I say он брил (he shaved, but referring to him shaving an object) it changes the meaning. So we say он брился because he shaved HIMSELF. Get it?

Now for себя. Себя is the reflexive pronoun. It can be translated in English as “oneself”. Now let’s kind of compare. I'll emphasize the reflexive pronoun or verb ending and emphasize its corresponding word in English.

Я увидела себя с тобой. (I saw myself with you.)

Я увиделась с тобой. (I went to see you/met up with you, I don’t know how to translate it — English is my third language.) This isn't really the best example, since I don’t know what it corresponds to in English, but I hope it helped :)

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