Consider the following sentence:

She knew this to be her weakness.

I've encountered a few sentences of this form in various sources, but none had both pronouns referring to the same subject. E.g., I would find cases of

[A] knew this to be [B]'s weakness,

but never

[A] knew this to be [A's own] weakness.

Is there anything preventing sentences of this form from being used in this way?

  • "She knew this to be her weakness."

This sentence is completely grammatical, acceptable and idiomatic when "she" and "her" refer to the same person. Unlike some other languages such as Russian, English does not have a reflexive possessive pronoun. In most cases, we just use the usual possessive form corresponding to the grammatical person (and in third person singular, the gender) of the possessor (e.g. "I knew this to be my weakness," "He knew this to be his weakness," etc.).

Examples from a Google Books search for "she knew this to be her":

On the other side he was capable of using his intellectual, analytical powers to protect himself from her, — and she knew this to be her enemy. (Translate this Darkness: The Life of Christiana Morgan, the Veiled Woman in Jung's Circle, by Claire Douglas)


Seeing how they looked at her as they were dragged past and thrown into another cell, she knew this to be her lowest moment. (Darker Side of the Sun, by Nina S. Wornham)


She listened for a moment more before she heard sobbing in the hall. She knew this to be her mother. (Time After Time, Margaret E. Michaels)

The construction with just the possessive pronoun is normal in the above sentences. In some cases, the word "own" may be added after the possessive pronoun to emphasize contrast with another possible possessor, or simply to emphasize the identify of the possessor (in a context where it might be surprising that the possessor is the same as the subject of the sentence).

For example, it would be appropriate and idiomatic to use the word "own" after the possessive pronoun in the following context:

  • "Not thinking things through was his greatest weakness. She knew this was her own weakness as well."
  • "Some people are good at recognizing other people's weaknesses. But she has accomplished something even more valuable: she knows her own weaknesses."

There is nothing wrong with the construction "own weakness". It is uncommonly used, particularly in literature, but I would argue its lack of commonality has more to do with it being a niche expression than there being anything wrong with it. One of my favorite books using this expression to great effect:

Never test another man by your own weakness.

-- Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

And this example comes from a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt :

[...] They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. [...]

-- Theodore Roosevelt, Man in the Arena speech, 23 April, 1910

Grammatically, the expression follows all the rules of English and makes perfect sense. I can neither find nor imagine any argument against it, while at the same time I am able to produce the above examples of its use.


She knew this to be her weakness.

It was written this way ONLY after some preceding sentence gave reference to who the subject "She" is.

Notice in the comment, if I may, the examples given there is a pattern:

"...her, — and she..."

"...at her..." // "...she knew..."

"She listened...she heard..." // "She knew..."

Those previous are the antecedents [the word (which can be another pronoun) the pronoun refers to] to one or more pronouns in the second sentence.

With the sentence all by itself, no context, verbatim, it could be interpreted as having two different meanings.

She knew this to be her weakness.

In the Third Person narrative, the subject knew this to be her own weakness.

In the Third Person narrative, the subject knew this to be the weakness of another.

[A] knew this to be [A's own] weakness.

YOU may never have seen this, but it's a legitimate sentence, more than likely used when there is no surrounding sentences give clue as to who A is. But that's speculation on my part; the fact is there's nothing wrong with it.

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