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I was told that it is a typical mistake for Russian speakers to say I feel myself badly instead of I feel ill.

I wonder to what extent such constructs sound wrong to native speakers?

  1. I feel myself badly

  2. I feel myself well

  3. I feel myself to be a hero

  4. I feel myself to be an astronaut

  5. I feel myself to be suppressed (I feel myself suppressed)

  6. I feel myself sleeping (I feel myself to be sleeping)

Are they always wrong or just convey a different meaning? Are there examples of native English speakers using such constructs?

UPDATE

Some comments said that there is a erotic connotation in this usage. I would like this to be explained as well.

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I'm not a native, but I know for a fact that reading "I feel myself" will make someone giggle because of Rule 34 –  Alex Sep 20 '12 at 14:10
    
@Alex does it mean that the phrase is used in erotic context? –  Anixx Sep 20 '12 at 14:12
    
Yes. I'm also positive that using the expression like you do in your examples is not correct (answer incoming) –  Alex Sep 20 '12 at 14:15
    
(5 minutes have passed, can no longed edit my comment) I'll leave the answering to a native, I'm having difficulties explaining it in a meaningful way sorry. –  Alex Sep 20 '12 at 14:22
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Note that "I feel myself [adverb]" is a very different construction than "I feel myself to be [adjective]", and both are different than "I feel myself to be a [noun]". The adverbial construction just sounds wrong, even if we can sometimes force a meaning unto it. The other two can be OK, if the adjective/noun are chosen meaningfully. –  Marthaª Sep 20 '12 at 23:13
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6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

All of these sentences are grammatically valid, but for some of them the intended meaning is not at all clear, and they are not the way that most English speakers would express these ideas.

In general, "I feel myself" is generally understood to mean touching yourself for autoerotic pleasure, which is probably not what you mean in any of these examples.

"I feel myself badly." Sounds like you mean that you are unskilled at autoeroticism. If what you mean is that you are sick or unhappy, you should say simply "I feel bad."

"I feel myself well." Similar to badly but in the opposite direction. You probably mean "I feel good."

"I feel myself to be a hero/astronaut/suppressed." Valid. These would be understood to mean that you think you "qualify" as one of these things, but by using the word "feel" rather than simply stating that you "are", you imply that the classification might be debatable. Like, someone who has flown very high-altitude airplanes might say, "I feel myself to be an astrounaut", knowing that others will challenge the claim. I think most Enlgish speakers would be more likely to say, "I consider myself to be an astrounaut" or "I think of myself as an astronaut" or "I think I am an astronaut." But the sentence as written is valid if that's what you mean. Note this is different from saying, "I feel like a [whatever]". In that case, you are not claiming to actually be whatever, just that you have some similar experience. Like, "After an hour in the Space Shuttle simulator, I feel like an astronaut."

"I feel myself sleeping." I'm not sure what you're trying to say. If you're sleeping, you're not really feeling anything. Maybe "I feel myself falling asleep"?

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Good answer. One other way to express I feel myself to be might be I feel like I'm, as in: "I feel like I'm an astronaut; I feel like I'm a hero; I feel like I'm suppressed." –  J.R. Sep 20 '12 at 17:13
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Personally, the only one I found acceptable was 3. I feel myself to be a hero. However, I agree with the spirit in which you interpreted all of them. The only thing I'll add is that to me 4 could also imply that one felt oneself to be spacy, or spaced out, but that is likely my personal bias against Architecture Astronauts seeping through. –  user14070 Sep 20 '12 at 17:21
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Warning: [jaɲɛpɔɲɛmajuparuski]

English does not have a Dative case (I have a strong feeling those Russian reflexives are usually Dative, not Accusative; please correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what I'd expect in German, for instance), and English reflexive pronouns are cumbersome Rube Goldberg constructions (viz, myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves, including the only 2nd person plural inflection in the language) which demonstrate that English does not use reflexives much at all for grammatical purposes.

Consequently, most of the sentences above are either ungrammatical (1 & 2; though they're understandable, and such unnecessary reflexives are easily ignored); an example of a wrong lexical choice (6; you can't feel yourself doing anything when you're sleeping - the word for that is dream); or part of a different construction that probably doesn't carry the same meanings as the Russian construction.

3, 4, & 5, however, are grammatical examples of the construction called B-Raising. Not to go into details, these reflexives are required after the verb feel (which means 'believe, perceive' in this construction) when it takes an infinitive complement clause with to that represents a belief or perception about oneself.

I.e,

  • I believe/perceive [I be a hero] ==> I feel myself to be a hero.
  • I believe/perceive [I be an astronaut] ==> I feel myself to be an astronaut.
  • I believe/perceive [I be suppressed] ==> I feel myself to be suppressed.

The reflexive is required only because the subject of an infinitive can't be deleted by Equi after like, so it gets Raised up to become the direct object of like, and then it has to become reflexive because it's identical to the subject of like. It's a very complex rule.

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Both in Russian and in German the reflexive pronoun in this case is accusative (я чувствую себя.../ich fühle mich...). –  RegDwigнt Sep 20 '12 at 15:44
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@Anixx: The problem with that is there's no commonly-accepted definition of what "being an astronaut" actually means. Taking a more common example, it's perfectly normal to say "I felt like a king" because in context people will mostly understand that you felt you had power over other people (the way a king does). In such usages, you're not saying you truly believed you were a [king, astronaut] - you're saying your mental state was akin to that of an "archetypal" king, astronaut. Except in the case of astronauts there is no such archetypal state that I know of. –  FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 16:18
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@Anixx: sure you can, and it sounds totally natural, unlike "I feel myself to be an astronaut". But the reason the latter sounds strange is because of what it means, not because of grammar. "I feel like an astronaut" means that I feel like what I imagine an astronaut experiences in some specific circumstance - perhaps I'm wearing a very big padded winter coat that restricts my movement, so I'm drawing a comparison between that and a space suit. The "myself to be" version means I think I'm an astronaut, which is a very strange thing to think. –  Marthaª Sep 20 '12 at 16:19
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@ЯegDwight: I actually wasn't thinking of fühlen, but rather of the Dative reflexive that accompanies objects with intimate connections to the subject, like Er hat mir in die Suppe gespuckt. –  John Lawler Sep 20 '12 at 16:22
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@Anixx: I never said anything about dative, and instrumental would be собою. Себя is quite clearly not instrumental. –  RegDwigнt Mar 18 '13 at 16:51
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I feel myself [to be] XXX is an idiomatic metaphorical usage. It's normally associated with considered assessment. So if you said...

"I felt myself to be dying"

...this would most likely mean that taking all circumstances into account, you genuinely believed that you were actually dying and would soon be dead. On the other hand,...

"I felt like I was dying"

...primarily emphasises how bad you felt (you may not really have believed you were about to die).


OP's examples 1, 2, 6 all strike me as non-standard, in that none of the states being referenced are anything that would require careful assessment.

We do also use the "reflexive" form in contexts where "feel" has the meaning intuitively sense, rather than think, judge - for example, "I felt myself to be unwanted and unloved". But again, examples 1, 2, 6 don't fit that meaning.

Example 4 also seems rather odd. Without context, it could mean "My current circumstances and reactions are similar to what I imagine an astronaut would experience", or it could mean "In my opinion I am an astronaut". Both seem slightly weird sentiments to me.

Examples 3, 5 seem unexceptional to me. Personally, I'd normally include "to be" (as extensively explored in this earlier question). I should point out that "I feel myself guilty" is far more common than "I feel myself to be guilty". But they're both eclipsed by the standard "I feel guilty" anyway.

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(1) and (2) have feel followed by an adverb describing how the act of feeling is being conducted, rather than an adjective describing what is being sensed [ie, ill or well or good]. Consequently they may be grammatical but convey quite the wrong meaning. –  Andrew Leach Sep 20 '12 at 15:26
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@Andrew Leach: All OP's examples are "grammatical" - so is "I will feel myself dreaming furiously of having green ideas". That one doesn't even admit of a meaningful interpretation, but with OP's "I feel myself well" I can at least imagine it meaning "By controlling my emotional state, I am improving my health". Or maybe just about "I am good at sensing my internal state". But if it was supposed to mean "I believe I am healthy" I'd have to say that just seems like something only a non-native speaker would say. –  FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 15:45
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I feel myself, when not used in a tactile sense, means soemthing like I consider myself. It follows that examples 3, 4 and 5 are grammatical, and all three may be used without to be. 6 is grammatical, with or without to be, but, for semantic reasons, would be unlikely to be said by a native speaker. 1 and 2 are ungrammatical in the 'consider' sense.

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In general, feelings can be felt in an internal mental sense, but physical objects like people aren't felt, except in a physcial sense. Generally with your hands.

If you say any of those phrases with "I feel myself" to a fluent English speaker, you are liable to receive a snicker at best. It sounds too much like a cross between "I play with myself" (a phrase implying masturbation), and the phrase "X felt up Y" (a phrase implying X used his/her hands on the body of Y for the purposes of sexual exploration). The ones with "to be" aren't so bad, because again "feel" is now talking about a state of existance rather than a literal person.

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My opinion on American English usage is that there is no auto-erotic meaning to the clause "I feel myself" except among those who spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking in those terms. (This is illustrated in the popular cartoon series "Beavis and Butthead", which frequently exemplifies a juvenile obsession with anything erotic.)

The sentence "I feel myself" may require some further explanation, as it does seem to assert that something extraordinary is happening. This is simply because we all (or most of us, anyway) can physically feel or sense ourselves.

tchrist gave a link to some excellent examples of how "I feel myself..." can be used. Each of these cases appear to be self-consistent and not requiring additional explanation beyond the context that each one is in. (I didn't actually look at all of the nearly 2 million results.)

Most of your example sentences are not common in everyday usage, but I would not find them to be unusual in a first-person narrative story, for example. I that case, I would also expect plenty of context to give it clearer meaning.

"I feel myself badly" is a little difficult to imagine, but even that sentence could find a place in the right context. As for the others, you could just as easily substitute "I imagine myself..." if you want to know how "I feel myself..." might be used and interpreted.

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