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

With regards to the sentence "Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself", I couldn't really understand why it is considered correct. I couldn't understand it as it sounds weird. Could you please explain the use of "himself" in the sentence?

Hello Siomara,

You could just say 'he rarely drank', but using 'himself' puts more emphasis on the contrast between what one might expect and what is true. The idea is that this man is different from typical expectations. One might think that someone who has a large collection of whiskies would enjoy drinking whisky and do it often. This man is not like this and the reflexive pronoun emphasises this.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Are these equal?
Which book do you want? = what book do you want?

Hello Tawaf Ahmad,

Both questions mean the same thing, but we use 'what' and 'which' slightly differently. If there is a specific group of books you've been talking about, then 'which' is the best form. If you haven't been speaking about any specific books, then 'what' would be better.

See our interrogative determiners page for more examples of this. I'd suggest reading through the comments on that page where other users have asked similar questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Good friends respect each other as individuals and are able to tell differences of opinions without allowing themselves to threaten the relationship.
Is the use of reflexive pronoun correct? Thank you.

Hello Psyche,

That depends on what the pronoun refers to.

Good friends respect each other as individuals and are able to express differences of opinion without allowing themselves to threaten the relationship.

Here 'themselves' refers to 'good friends'.

 

Good friends respect each other as individuals and are able to express differences of opinion without allowing them to threaten the relationship.

Here 'them' refers to 'differences of opinion' (note the singular is used in this phrase).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much. This is very helpful. I fully understand now the use of the reflexive pronoun in the sentence.

Hello,
Why this clause is incorrect and we can't use "ourselves"?
We can't imagine ourselves living without electricity.

To add to what I originally posted on this subject about "living without electricity" being a gerund phrase that replaces the direct object pronoun "it" in this situation: First, in standard, everyday English, one will hear "ourselves" said here or more often will hear it said, "We can't imagine living without electricity." The reason is that when the possessive pronoun is already known in the gerund phrase, English speakers usually drop it; therefore, one would say, "We can't remember ever doing that"; however, if the subject of the gerund phrase were to change (which technically is not a subject since it uses a possessive pronoun), it would read this way: "We can't remember his ever doing that" or "We can't remember their ever doing that" because the question is obviously, "What can't you remember?"; it's not asking, "Whom can't you remember doing that?" In fact, the latter question using "whom" can't even be written in correct English because it's unintelligible for the most part

To add to what I originally posted on this subject about "living without electricity" is a gerund phrase that replaces the direct object pronoun "it" in this situation: First, in standard, everyday English, one will hear "ourselves" said here or more often will hear it said, "We can't imagine living without electricity." The reason is that when the possessive pronoun is already known in the gerund phrase, English speakers usually drop it; therefore, one would say, "We can't remember ever doing that"; however, if the subject of the gerund phrase were to change (which technically is not a subject since it uses a possessive pronoun), it would read this way: "We can't remember his ever doing that" or "We can't remember their ever doing that" because the question is obviously, "What can't you remember?"; it's not asking, "Whom can't you remember doing that?" In fact, the latter question using "whom" can't even be written in correct English because it's unintelligible for the most part.

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