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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



Hello Inas Elshinnawy,

The sentence describes something in the past and so both verb forms are in the past tense: kept and drank.

If you want to talk about the present then you need to change both verbs: keep and drink.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Peter,

I wrote drink by mistake.I mean to write just drank without himself. I don't understand why the sentence is correct.

Hello again Inas,

Could you explain why you think 'Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank' is not correct? It's difficult to explain why it's correct without knowing why you think it is incorrect.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LE team,

I have a question. I cannot always tell whether reflexive pronoun alone or with the preposition "by" should be used. Let´s take your last two examples:
I baked the bread myself.
She mended the car herself.
Why can´t I say
I baked the bread by myself.
She mended the car by herself.
? In my opinion the pairs of sentences would be identical.
When I emphasize, I am the person who did it, I am also saying I did it without any help, aren´t I?
Susan painted the picture (by) herself. She is the person who painted the picture. And she did so without any help. In my opinion both are correct.
We made the costumes (by) ourselves . (for example for a fancy dress party) We are the people who made the costumes. We didn´t have them made at a tailor´s and we made them without any help of other people. Again, I think both are correct.

I have read about reflexive pronouns in a few grammar books and a few websites but this difference is still puzzling me.
Thanks for any clearer explanations.

Hi Radovan,

You're absolutely right when you say that the sentences you refer to could be written with or without 'by' – they are correct both with and without 'by'. The two different versions, however, do have a different meaning in that they emphasise different things. This difference is subtle, so it sounds as if you're very close to understanding this.

  1. 'I baked the bread myself'.
  2. 'I baked the bread by myself'.

In 1, the emphasis is on the person versus another person. For example, imagine I've served someone some bread. They like it so much they ask me which bakery I bought it from. If I baked the bread, I might say 'I baked it myself'. Here it's as if I'm saying 'I baked it, not the baker'.

In 2, the emphasis is on the person alone, i.e. without any help. For example, children who've just learned to do something often use 'by myself' because they're often proud of what they've done without any help. So my son might say 'I baked it myself' if he's baked the bread without any help from anyone else.

As you can see, the difference is rather subtle, and there are probably times when 'by myself' could be used with a similar meaning to just 'myself', but there can be the difference that I've explained above.

I hope this helps clarify the issue for you. If you have any other specific questions about it, please let us know.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,

I have got a wrong answer for the first Quiz of second part, please kindly explain me for the reason,

Kind regards,

Hello Ina,

I'm not completely sure which question you are referring to, but I think you mean the one where it has 'sorry' in it. If so, then the problem is that you need to say 'sorry for themselves' - the 'for' is necessary.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

There was a large number of stars present. The director by himself was also there. can't understand why this one incorrect :

Hello behappy,

In this context, the reflexive pronoun is used for emphasis, not to mean 'alone'. As the sentence says that 'a large number of stars were present' it would be difficult for the director to be alone!


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The Learn English Team,
Why (She still dresses herself even though she's 93.) is correct, despite the grammar is (We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress)?