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, in the task 2 why the sentence " Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself" is correct?

Thank you

Hello Irene93,

I'm not sure why you would think this is incorrect, so it's hard for me to explain why it is correct! It is an example of the last rule on the page:

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

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

There is nothing such as 'theirself' and 'ourself'?

Hello Joseph,

That's correct, those are not standard forms. Instead, I'd recommend 'theirselves' and 'ourselves'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

They were feeling very sorry themselves.Why incorrect?

Hello Marybeth,

As is explained above, we use a reflexive pronoun as the object of a preposition when the object refers to the subject of the clause (e.g. 'He was feeling very sorry for himself.'). In the sentence you're asking about, the preposition 'for' is missing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

So you are asking question about PREPOSITION not Reflexive Pronoun.

Hello ahmad699,

I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you're asking here. When you say 'you', are you referring to me or to Marybeth? Could you please rephrase your question?

Thanks.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, teachers.
About the phrase 'Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself.'
I see that the word 'himself' is underlined more clearly when in opposition with 'but others do'. Yet here we don't have the benefit of this continuation. I guess this isn't a problem for genuine English speakers, but isn't its use at the end of the sentence somewhat confusing even for them? As in mistaking it for the shorter, and more senseless, 'He drank himself.' Shouldn't the substitute 'He himself rarely drank' shatter the confusion and emphasise more of the actual meaning of the phrase?

Hello relu tanase,

The word order you suggest is fine, but so is the original word order. It is a question of style and emphasis for the writer (or speaker). The context makes the meaning perfectly clear so I don't think that there is any possibility of ambiguity with this form, particularly as this use of reflexive pronouns is quite common in English. I often use them in this way myself.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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