Ask Luís! (#14): Difference between “por si só[s]” / “por si próprio[s]”

Hello, everyone!

Here’s yet another interesting question for all of you from Yuliya:

Olá, Luís!

Sou eu, a tua perguntadora assídua.

Não consigo entender a diferença entre “por si sós”, “por si só” e “por si próprios”.

Em alguns casos “por si sós” = “por si próprios”, não é?

Mas, de acordo com Ciberdúvidas, há um caso quando só «por si só» pode ser usado: “No entanto, é de uso generalizado em Portugal a expressão «por si só» — ou «só por si» — como locução adverbial, com o sentido de isoladamente, e, neste caso, invariável.”

Pode dar-me um exemplo deste uso? E também qual expressão tenho de usar nesta frase: “As bebidas alcoólicas por si só não são prejudicadoras. É a quantidade de consumo que importa.”? Ou “As bebidas alcoólicas por si sós não são prejudicadoras. É a quantidade de consumo que importa.”? Ou “As bebidas alcoólicas por si próprias não são prejudicadoras. É a quantidade de consumo que importa.”?

Thank you again for a very interesting question!

Regarding your first question, “por si só” in its invariable, adverbial form usually has in same meaning as English “on its own, in isolation”; this means that both of your options – singular and plural – are proper, correct answers, but with slight different meanings; in the singular, “por si só” implies a neutrality to the situation, or at least the way you’re writing about a certain matter – you’re merely saying that alcoholic drinks, on their own, aren’t prejudicial; just like the Ciberdúvidas question you found says [1], using the plural would put an extra emphasis on the pronoun and therefore also emphasize the point you’re making.

Also as a correction, we generally use the adjective “prejudicial / prejudiciais” for prejudicial/harmful, so that would be a better fit to make your sentence better. “As bebidas alcoólicas por si só não são prejudiciais…”, “As bebidas alcoólicas por si sós não são prejudiciais…” or “As bebidas alcoólicas por si próprias não são prejudiciais…” could all be possible answers.

A few other examples of “Por si só” as an invariable adverbial form could be:

  • Por si só, as portas do navio não conseguem aguentar a força do vento. The ship’s doors can’t hold the strength of the wind on their own [i.e. without any other help / interference]
  • Por si só, os estábulos eram suficientes para todos os cavalos. On their own, the stables were enough for all the horses.

In away, “por si só” implies that something happened in spite of (if the sentence is negative) or because of a given idea, without much outside interference; the plural would put an added sense of volition or at least capacity to the noun you’re referring to; it makes the idea you’re trying to make somewhat stronger, even if we generally chose the singular instead.

Thanks again for the question, and good luck with your studies!

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2 thoughts on “Ask Luís! (#14): Difference between “por si só[s]” / “por si próprio[s]”

  1. julkastarter May 22, 2017 / 2:53 pm

    Hello, Luís! Thank you again. Did I understand right that all three forms are more or less equial with slight differences in meaning? But the most used form is “Por si só”?
    And for the word “prejudicador” – it is not used at all? Or is used in other case? Or in BP?
    Have a nice day,
    Yuliya

    Like

    • luisdomingos May 22, 2017 / 4:27 pm

      Hello, Yuliya! Yes, they’re more or less similar; when in doubt, “Por si só” is probably the safest option!

      Regarding “prejudicador”, it’s true that it can be used (at least it’s mentioned in dictionaries), but I don’t think it’s very common, not even as a noun. I strongly advise going with “prejudicial” as an adjective, at least.

      It seems like it’s at least somewhat more common in Brazil (i.e. http://www.hipolabor.com.br/blog/2017/02/20/hipolabor-ajuda-quais-medicamentos-tem-efeito-prejudicado-ao-tomar-antibiotico/); in this instance, I would think of “efeito prejudicial” instead.

      Have a nice day as well,
      Luís

      Like

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