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Reflexive pronouns

Level: beginner

The reflexive pronouns are:

singular: myself yourself himself herself itself
plural: ourselves yourselves themselves

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
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Be careful!

We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves:

He washed in cold water.
He always shaved before going out in the evening.
Michael dressed 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.

Level: intermediate

We use reflexive pronouns as an 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.

We use reflexive pronouns as the object of a preposition when the object is the same as the subject of the verb:

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

but we use object pronouns, not reflexives, after prepositions of place:

He had a suitcase beside him. (NOT himself)

and after with when it means accompanied by:

She had a few friends with her. (NOT herself)

We use reflexives with the preposition by:

  • to show that someone did something without any help:

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

  • to show that someone was alone:

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

We use reflexive pronouns 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.

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Level: advanced

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 lying by 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.

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Comments

Hello,

Can you please explain to me what are transitive verbs? or point me in the right direction? I couldn't find it under verbs here in the grammar section.

I always read it in dictionaries when I'm searching for a new word. I read what it means but I didn't really get it! I can't tell if verbs are transitive or not? Is there a list of transitive verbs I should study?

Hello H_L,

Verbs can be divided according to whether or not they take an object.

 

Verbs which have an object are called transitive verbs.

I patted the dog - the verb 'pat' has an object ('the dog'); it is a transitive verb

 

Verbs which do not have an object are called intransitive verbs.

I get up at 6.00 - the verb 'get up' has no object; it is an intransitive verb

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I understand now.
Thank you so much for this simple and clear explanation.

Hi, in eg " Do you have any photos of ___? We need one for the website."
"yourself" is key, so it means a photo taken by yourself or a photo about you?

Hello Chang,

A photo of yourself means that you are in the picture.

A photo you took yourself means that you were holding the camera.

Your photo could mean either.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi. May I know why the answer to the following sentence in relaxive pronouns 2 exercise is 'myself' instead of 'me'?

I attached the document to an email and sent it to _.

The object is the same as the verb, so reflexive is used.

However, isn't 'to' a preposition of place, therefore object pronounce is used?

Thanks in advance!

Hi guin,

Reflexive pronouns can be used as the object of a preposition as long as the preposition is not a preposition of place. The rule is actually on the page:

We use reflexive pronouns as an 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.

 

We use reflexive pronouns as the object of a preposition when the object is the same as the subject of the verb:

 

They had to cook for themselves.

He was feeling very sorry for himself.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi.

Hmm.. isn't it 'to' a preposition of place, so reflexive can't be used here?

Thanks!

Hi again,

In your example, 'to' is a preposition of movement, not of place.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello. I like to know if we may write as follows:

1) My sister saw the president himself and shook his hands.
2) My sister saw the president herself and shook his hands.

Hope to hear from you. Thanks.

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