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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:

Reflexive pronouns 1


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.

Reflexive pronouns 2


Reflexive pronouns 3


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.

Reflexive pronouns 4


Reflexive pronouns 5




I think in Activity 2, Question 1,  They were feeling very sorry themselves. may be right, just different meaning for They were feeling very sorry for themselves. In the above explanation, it mentions: 
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.
Can  we  use this usage in this sentence? Is  this understanding right?

 Hi Zhao Wei

This is an interesting question. 'They were feeling very sorry themselves' does not mean the same as: 'They were feeling very sorry for themselves'.

To feel sorry for someone = to feel pity. It is quite common to describe someone as 'feeling sorry for himself'.

The emphatic uses that you have written are quite right. In your first sentence: I baked the bread myself - you would emphasize that you (yourself) baked the bread because it is common to buy bread. 

Consider the following:

They fixed their car themselves (it is common to get a mechanic to do this for you).

Although it is not easy, I can think of a situation where the example in the activity might be correct. If anyone disagrees, please leave a comment.

Imagine a group of burglars who regularly break into houses when the owners are asleep in bed. When the owners wake up in the morning, they discover that their belongings have been stolen and they feel very sorry. The burglars don't feel very sorry because they only rob the houses of rich people.

One night, the burglars broke into and emptied a house as they did on most nights. In the morning, they heard on the news that the house belonged to a very kind man who had been collecting items to distribute at the local orphanage and that they had stolen all of the gifts for the children. That morning, they were feeling very sorry themselves (reflexive pronoun: emphasizing that they don't normally feel sorry.

I hope that I haven't confused you here with unnecessary examples. Please understand that the example I have written is a very unusual case and the phrase 'They were feeling sorry for themselves' is 100 times more common.


Jack Radford

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Jack!
I think your example is just perfect. Thank you very much for everything!

so interesting

i have problem in spoken ,anybody help me in online practice .

Hi, I have same problem, if u wish, we can help each.

thanks for my teachers (;'

that's enough, isn't it?

I found a problem with question 8 of Activity 1. As per my opinion answer should be 'yourself' but it shows that it is wrong. And it is also not showing the correct answer.
If you can check Adam!