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  • Ilinca Stroe

One word at a time: „Sine”

If grammatical items could make a career just like humans do, this little word would become a superexecutive: sine. Based on the Latin 3rd person singular pronoun se and fashioned after mine and tine (the 1st and 2nd person singular pronouns), sine found a way to climb from the modest position of a pronoun to that of a noun. Not just any noun, but the one at the core of our very ontology and theory of being: the one which names the self – sinele.

Philosophers and (Jungian) psychologists have puzzled over what it may or may not meant, exactly, and so semantically the short little word is quite potent, and it has generated quite a few important phrases and frequent compound nouns, which we will revise shortly. But let’s first see how we can tell the difference between sine as a pronoun and as a noun.

It is a pronoun whenever we can “customise” the phrase it is part of by adapting it to the 1st and 2nd persons singular, using the corresponding pronouns. Thus, in an expression like “a păstra pentru sine” (“to keep it to oneself”), we can (and indeed should) change the pronoun depending on the person of the subject: “eu păstrez pentru mine” (“I keep it to myself”), “tu păstrezi pentru tine” (“you keep it to yourself”), “ea/el păstrează pentru sine” (“s/he keeps it to her/himself”). It’s incorrect to say “eu păstrez pentru sine”. Similarly, with a phrase like “a fi stăpân pe sine” (“to be self-possessed”), we need to adapt sine to the person we’re referring to: “(eu) am fost stăpân pe mine (însumi)”/”I was self-possessed”, “(tu) ai fost stăpân pe tine”/”you were self-possessed”. It’s not OK to say “(eu) am fost stăpân pe sine”.

On the other hand, take the compound noun “stăpânire de sine” (“self-possession”, “self-control”): in this case, it is incorrect to say “stăpânire de mine”, and it’s OK to talk about “stăpânirea mea de sine” (“my self-control”). Here, sine is a noun and we have to keep it as such, invariable, whether we’re using 1st, 2nd or 3rd person singular subjects, as in “(eu) am o bună stăpânire de sine” (“I have good self-control”) or “(tu) ai o bună stăpânire de sine” (“you have good self-control”).

There are several noun compounds which include sine, from the same area of (roughly) psychological traits like “stăpânire de sine”. Let’s look at them in context:

“Iar l-am lăsat pe Dan să intre înaintea mea...”/“I let Dan get in before me again...”

“Tu n-ai respect de sine?”/“Have you got no self-respect?”

“De ce ai reacţionat aşa?”/”Why did you react like that?”

“Habar n-am. Nu stau prea bine cu cunoaşterea de sine.”/”No idea. My self-knowledge isn’t very good.”

“Sunt îngrozită de prezentarea pe care o am de făcut.”/”I’m terrified by the presentation I have to give.”

“Ţi-ar prinde bine mai multă încredere în sine.”/”You could do with a little more self-confidence.”

Besides such compound nouns, sine appears in a number of phrases which are quite often used and therefore worth memorising. Again, let’s discover them in context:

“Ai acceptat condiţiile impuse de ei?”/”Have you accepted the conditions they imposed?”

“Da, dar în sinea mea mi-am promis să îmi dau demisia curând.”/”Yes, but I promised to myself I’d resign soon.”

“Nu trebuie decât să declari conferinţa deschisă”/”You just have to declare the conference open.”

“Ştiu. Restul vine de la sine...”/”I know. The rest comes by itself...”

“Ţi-a cerut cineva să vii sâmbăta la serviciu?”/”Has anyone asked you to come to work on Saturday?”

“Nu, am venit cu de la sine putere.”/”No, I’ve come by my own will.”

So take sine as the closest Romanian word to English “self”, including its philosophical connotations or aura: it is a rather abstract concept în sine (per se), but the word itself generates a number of phrases which come in handy in many specific, day-to-day situations. Definitely worth learning!

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