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

There was a large number of stars present. The director by himself was also there.
Why is it incorrect?

I was wrong; I apologize. It should be, "There were a large number of stars present." The idiom "a number of" means "several" here. I mistook it to mean a "group". I was just making an argument for it, though; I would always have said and written it with "There were".

Sometimes it does depend on the English-speaking world you may be from and how you may be using this. In American English, the collective nouns are almost always treated as a unit; therefore, "There was a large 'group' of stars present" would be correct in American English. In British English, however, collective nouns depend on whether the speaker may be treating "a [] number of stars" as a unit or as individuals.
Another example is the word "family": in American English, family is always treated as a unit; therefore one would say, "The family is one of the oldest in the country" when clearly talking about the family as a unit and one would also say, "The family is scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." Clearly, "family in the latter sense is talking about the "family members", so in British English, it would probably be heard as such: "The family are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." However, for the verb to be plural in American English, one would have to collocate "members" to the word "family": "The family members are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted."

There is nothing wrong with your first sentence depending upon where in the English-speaking world you may be from and how you may be using this. In American English, the collective nouns are almost always treated as a unit; therefore, "There was a large number of stars present" would be correct in American English. In British English, however, collective nouns depend on whether the speaker may be treating "a [] number of stars" as a unit or as individuals.
Another example is the word "family": in American English, family is always treated as a unit; therefore one would say, "The family is one of the oldest in the country" when clearly talking about the family as a unit and one would also say, "The family is scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." Clearly, "family in the latter sense is talking about the "family members", so in British English, it would probably be heard as such: "The family are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." However, for the verb to be plural in American English, one would have to collocate "members" to the word "family": "The family members are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted."

Hello Isuru Lakmal,

Although 'a large number' in the phrase 'a large number of stars' is singular and so the singular verb form 'there was' makes sense, a plural verb ('there were') is used here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Could you please explain that sentence again, why it is incorrect?
It is not correct because of the wrong verb ("there was") or using "by himself".

Moreover, what does "there" mean in the second sentence, "The director by himself was also there"? Does it mean, "the director" was also a famous person?

Best regards,

Hello pddthinh,

I got distracted by the first sentence and didn't notice the second one. The biggest error in the two sentences in the second one. It should be 'The direct himself was also there'. This is because 'himself' places emphasis on the director. It's not that he was there alone -- this wouldn't make sense given the previous sentence.

Does that make sense now?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Kirk. It is clear now.

Best regards,

What about a group on whatsapp? So we can help one another...

Hi, Sir. in this example he said 'I prepared the whole meal by myself.' but in this example he said 'I baked the bread myself' why he used 'by myself' in the first and he just used 'myself' in the next because I think the meaning is so close. could you please explain that point?

Hello mohamedfathy,

In saying, 'by myself' means that he did it alone, without anyone else's help. 'myself' (as in the example you cite) emphasises that I baked the bread, not a different person. The meanings are very similar, but can be used to emphasise different points.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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