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

Thank you very much! I feel I know a lot!

Hello sir , hope you're in the peak of your health.
Sir I have a little confusion with the following sentence.
Welcome to the party, everyone! Just help YOURSELVES/YOURSELF to the snacks and drinks.
As per my understanding it should be YOURSELVES as it means all the guests but as 'everyone' is given should it be YOURSELF?

Hello amrita,

'yourselves' is the correct form here. Although 'everyone' is singular, 'help yourselves' is a separate verb phrase and, more importantly, the meaning is clearly plural.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you sir.

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

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