The reflexive pronouns are:

 

Singular: myself - yourself - himself - herself - itself
Plural: ourselves - yourselves - themselves


When we use a reflexive pronoun

We use a reflexive pronoun:

• as a direct object when the object is the same as the subject of the verb:

I am teaching myself to play the piano.
Be careful with that knife. You might cut yourself.

We can use a reflexive pronoun as direct object with most transitive verbs, but these are the most common:

amuse blame cut dry enjoy help
hurt introduce kill prepare satisfy teach


Some verbs change their meaning slightly when they have a reflexive pronoun as direct object:

  • Would you like to help yourself to another drink?
    = Would you like to take another drink.
  • I wish the children would behave themselves.
     = I wish the children would behave well.
  • He found himself lying by the side of the road.
    He was surprised when he realised that he was at the side of the road.
  • I saw myself as a famous actor.
    = I imagined that I was a famous actor.
  • She applied herself to the job of mending the lights.
    = She worked very hard to mend the lights.
  • He busied himself in the kitchen.
     = He worked busily in the kitchen.
  • I had to content myself with a few Euros.
    I had to be satisfied with a few Euros.

We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress:

He washed [himself] in cold water.
He always shaved [himself] before going out in the evening.
Michael dressed [himself] and got ready for the party.

We only use reflexives with these verbs for emphasis:

He dressed himself in spite of his injuries.
She’s old enough to wash herself.

• as indirect object when the indirect object is the same as the subject of the verb:

Would you like to pour yourself a drink.
We’ve brought ourselves something to eat.

• as the object of a preposition when the object refers to the subject of the clause:

They had to cook for themselves.
He was feeling very sorry for himself.

 

Warning

But we use personal pronouns, not reflexives, after prepositions of place...

He had a suitcase beside him.

and after with when it means "accompanied by":

She had a few friends with her.

 

We use a reflexive pronoun...

• with the preposition by when we want to show that someone did something alone and/or without any help:

He lived by himself in an enormous house.
She walked home by herself.

The children got dressed by themselves.
I prepared the whole meal by myself.

• to emphasise the person or thing we are referring to:

Kendal itself is quite a small town.

especially if we are talking about someone very famous:

Sir Paul McCartney himself sang the final song.

We often put the reflexive pronoun at the end of the clause when we are using it for emphasis:

I baked the bread myself.
She mended the car herself

 

Activities
 

Choose the correct reflexive pronouns to complete the sentences

 

Decide if the sentences are correct or incorrect
Section: 

Comments

I don't understand the rule .. I am confuse :(

Hello PaolaPao,

I'm sorry to hear that you're confused. If you'd like us to, we're happy to help you, but we can't do that unless you ask us a specific question.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, all,

I don't understand why this sentence should be correct:

Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself.
Why don't I say: he rarely drink.

Hello Inas Elshinnawy,

The sentence describes something in the past and so both verb forms are in the past tense: kept and drank.

If you want to talk about the present then you need to change both verbs: keep and drink.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Peter,

I wrote drink by mistake.I mean to write just drank without himself. I don't understand why the sentence is correct.

Hello again Inas,

Could you explain why you think 'Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank' is not correct? It's difficult to explain why it's correct without knowing why you think it is incorrect.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Kirk,
I think it's incorrect because "drink" is one of the actions that people naturally do by themselves. It's understood. Unless "himself" is used for emphasize in this sentence.
Please confirm that.

Hello Inas Elshinnawy,

Without 'himself' at the end the sentence just gives us information about the man's habits. When we add 'himself' we add emphasis and, probably, the intention is to compare his rare drinking with the more common drinking of someone else. WIthout knowing the context it is impossible to be sure. However, I can tell you that both sentences are grammatically possible.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LE team,

I have a question. I cannot always tell whether reflexive pronoun alone or with the preposition "by" should be used. Let´s take your last two examples:
I baked the bread myself.
She mended the car herself.
Why can´t I say
I baked the bread by myself.
She mended the car by herself.
? In my opinion the pairs of sentences would be identical.
When I emphasize, I am the person who did it, I am also saying I did it without any help, aren´t I?
Similarly:
Susan painted the picture (by) herself. She is the person who painted the picture. And she did so without any help. In my opinion both are correct.
We made the costumes (by) ourselves . (for example for a fancy dress party) We are the people who made the costumes. We didn´t have them made at a tailor´s and we made them without any help of other people. Again, I think both are correct.

I have read about reflexive pronouns in a few grammar books and a few websites but this difference is still puzzling me.
Thanks for any clearer explanations.
Radovan

Hi Radovan,

You're absolutely right when you say that the sentences you refer to could be written with or without 'by' – they are correct both with and without 'by'. The two different versions, however, do have a different meaning in that they emphasise different things. This difference is subtle, so it sounds as if you're very close to understanding this.

  1. 'I baked the bread myself'.
  2. 'I baked the bread by myself'.

In 1, the emphasis is on the person versus another person. For example, imagine I've served someone some bread. They like it so much they ask me which bakery I bought it from. If I baked the bread, I might say 'I baked it myself'. Here it's as if I'm saying 'I baked it, not the baker'.

In 2, the emphasis is on the person alone, i.e. without any help. For example, children who've just learned to do something often use 'by myself' because they're often proud of what they've done without any help. So my son might say 'I baked it myself' if he's baked the bread without any help from anyone else.

As you can see, the difference is rather subtle, and there are probably times when 'by myself' could be used with a similar meaning to just 'myself', but there can be the difference that I've explained above.

I hope this helps clarify the issue for you. If you have any other specific questions about it, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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