Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns

Do you know how to use reflexive pronouns like myself, yourself or themselves? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how reflexive pronouns are used.

She looked at herself in the mirror.
I'm trying to teach myself Italian with an app.
Our children walk to school by themselves.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Reflexive pronouns: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Reflexive pronouns are words like myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves. They refer back to a person or thing.

We often use reflexive pronouns when the subject and the object of a verb are the same. 

I cut myself when I was making dinner last night.
I hope you enjoy yourselves at the party tonight!
My phone isn't working properly. It turns itself off for no reason.
We need to believe in ourselves more.

Adding emphasis

We can add a reflexive pronoun for emphasis when it's unusual or different.

He wants to pass his driving test so that he can drive himself to work.
She broke her arm, so she couldn't wash herself very easily.

We can use reflexive pronouns to emphasise that someone does it personally, not anybody else.

The door was definitely locked. I locked it myself.
Are you redecorating your flat yourselves?

We can also use a reflexive pronoun together with the noun it refers to in order to emphasise it.

We talked to the manager herself, and she agreed to give us our money back.
Parents themselves need to take more responsibility for their children's learning.

By + reflexive pronoun

We can use by + reflexive pronoun to mean alone.

He usually goes on holiday by himself.
Do you enjoy being by yourself?

Reciprocal pronouns

Notice the difference between plural reflexive pronouns and reciprocal pronouns (each other, one another).

They're buying themselves a new television.
They're buying each other small gifts.
We looked at ourselves in the mirror.
We looked at each other in surprise.

With reciprocal pronouns (e.g. each other), each person does the action to the other person/people but not to themselves. 

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Reflexive pronouns: Grammar test 2

Language level

Average: 4.1 (38 votes)

Submitted by leo15722 on Fri, 18/11/2022 - 22:07

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Hi guys. In this sentence "I cooked the food myself", I know that the reflexive pronoun is performing the emphatic use. But, since I emphasized that I cooked alone, can I say it's both emphatic and idiomatic?

Hi leo15722,

I'm not 100% clear how you define "idiomatic". There are several definitions - it can mean "natural-sounding" or "correct-sounding". Or, a more technical definition is that it means "having a meaning that is not obvious from the words contained in the phrase". In this phrase, I would say that the meaning is fairly transparent when we look at the words, so it's not idiomatic in the technical sense. But it is a common and natural-sounding construction, so it is idiomatic in that sense.

What do you think?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again. So, what I meant was ,for example, in this sentence "He usually goes on holiday by himself", we call it "idiomatic use" because the reflexive pronoun demonstrates that the subject is perfoming an action alone. But, not always we use the preposition "by" to perform this idiomatic use like this sentence "I hope the children behave themselves."

For that reason, I was wondering if this sentence "I cooked the food myself" since I cooked it alone, if it has that idiomatic use too.

Thank you

Hello again leo15722,

I'm afraid I may have unintentionally misled you in my previous comment. I was writing from the perspective of Spanish or Catalan grammar (which I suppose are fairly similar to Portuguese), where reflexive verbs have a variety of uses but don't vary so much in form. From that perspective, reflexive structures with a prepositional phrase could be called 'idiomatic', but that's not really something you'd find in an authoritative grammar.

So if you find this idea of 'idiomatic use' useful for understanding how reflexive pronouns are used in English, then by all means use it, but as a kind of personal understanding. 

I hope this helps, and sorry for complicating things earlier!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by leo15722 on Mon, 14/11/2022 - 09:49

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Hi. Can I ask you a question? So, in this sentence "Help yourself with another drink", is it idiomatic, reflexive action or is it both of them?

Hello leo15722,

Normally the preposition 'to' is used here: 'Help yourself to another drink'.

I'd say the reflexive pronoun is used reflexively, but the addition of the 'to' phrase also makes it idiomatic.

You might find it interesting to read the Longman dictionary entries for 'help' and 'help yourself (to something)'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you! Now just one more thing, please. What about these idiomatic sentences such as "He saw himself as the U.S. President" and "He found himself lying by the side of the road". Are their use reflexive too?

Hello again leo15722,

I should say that my knowledge of English grammar is the knowledge of an English teacher. Linguists and specialists in syntax might well disagree with what I say here, so if that's the sort of context you're working in, please check what I say with an expert in that area!

As far as I understand it, in general in English, a reflexive pronoun is used when the subject and object of a verb are the same person. There are, however, other uses of reflexive pronouns -- for example, as explained above, they can be used for emphasis -- and there are likely verb phrases that lack a reflexive pronoun but in which the subject and object are the same (though I'm not sure about this).

So from that point of view, I'd say yes, those also are reflexive because both employ reflexive pronouns. The first also seems idiomatic to me, and the second a bit so. But, as I said earlier, please check with a syntax expert if that's the kind of analysis you seek.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mnshad on Tue, 01/11/2022 - 10:54

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hi
I have a question
Is it compulsory to use ..by.. before reflexive pronouns?
eg. I cook food myself or I cook food by myself. which is the correct one?

Hello Mnshad,

The two sentences you ask about mean different things.

In the case of 'I cook food myself', 'myself' is used to add emphasis. It means that I cook the food, not another person. Perhaps my friend has told me that I shouldn't complain because my mother cooks all my food. I could respond with this sentence to show that it's not my mother who cooks my food -- it's me.

In the case of 'I cook food by myself', 'by myself' means that I do it alone. No one helps me or is with me when I cook my food.

I hope this helps you understand the difference.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team