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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:

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.

I have a question that I try to search to found answer.
'I believe myself to be smart' is correct, but 'I want myself to resign' is wrong.
Could you tell me differences between them?

Thanks.

Hello Aruji,

When we say 'I want him to...' we are suggesting that he may not agree with our wish. It is not possible, logically speaking, for a person to disagree with their own wish: if they want to resign then they simply do so, and so it makes no sense to talk about your own desire in this way. The sentence is not grammatically wrong, but rather does not make sense.

In 'I believe myself to be smart' we are saying 'I believe that I am smart' and, clearly, this does make sense. This is different from the first example because it is an opinion about something which we may be wrong about. In contrast, we could not say 'I believe myself to love her' because we assume that we are not wrong about our own feelings - this would be similarly illogical to the first example.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher,
Good day..
May I know, which is the correct answer?

1) Can she draw the tree herself? We will help her if her cannot.

Or

2) Can she draw the tree herself? We will help her if she cannot.

Thank you

Hello shiitake haslina,

The second is correct.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for the answer

Hi people.
I was reading Arthur Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and came across an interesting usage of the reflexive pronouns in the book's foreword, when the author is discussing a possible encounter between humans and aliens:

"Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?"

Am I wrong to say that the reflexive pronoun here (along with "we") works as a subject of the sentence? Could you show me some other examples of this? It seems as if a comparison between someone else's opinion or action and our own is necessary in order for this to work.

Thank your for your time,

Igor

Hi Igor90,

The reflexive pronoun here is simply a way of emphasising the identity of the subject.

They themselves like to do this.

He himself has lived there for many years.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can I say "He live in a big house alon i'm afride he can't take cear himself"?

Hello Taro007,

That's not a correct sentence, no. I would guess that the sentence you are trying to say is:

He lives alone in a big house and I'm afraid he can't take care of himself.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Many times I gets confused myself with the order of the sentences. For Ex: As per my knowledge, the solution is correct. (OR) The solution is correct, as per my knowledge.

which one is correct? Please explain me on how to determine which one comes first.

Thanks,
Ananth.

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