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

To add to what I originally posted on this subject about "living without electricity" is a gerund phrase that replaces the direct object pronoun "it" in this situation: First, in standard, everyday English, one will hear "ourselves" said here or more often will hear it said, "We can't imagine living without electricity." The reason is that when the possessive pronoun is already known in the gerund phrase, English speakers usually drop it; therefore, one would say, "We can't remember ever doing that"; however, if the subject of the gerund phrase were to change (which technically is not a subject since it uses a possessive pronoun), it would read this way: "We can't remember his ever doing that" or "We can't remember their ever doing that" because the question is obviously, "What can't you remember?"; it's not asking, "Whom can't you remember doing that?" In fact, the latter question using "whom" can't even be written in correct English because it's unintelligible for the most part.

It's very technical English. The word "living" in that sentence is actually a gerund. A gerund acts as a noun despite "its looking" like a a verb. Since it's acting as if it were a true noun despite "its not being" the case, it takes a possessive pronoun; therefore, the sentence, in the most correct English as possible (the Queen's English), should read, "We can't imagine our living without electricity." To prove this, ask yourself the sentence in a question: "What can't we imagine?" Answer: "Our living without electricity is something that we can't imagine. We just can't imagine 'it'."
I hope that might have helped you out.

Hi Nick2004,

It is certainly perfectly fine to say 'We can't imagine our living without electricity' but it is also perfectly correct to say 'We can't imagine living without electricity'. The possessive adjective ('our' is not a possessive pronoun) here is possible but by no means required. If the speaker includes it then they are specifying whose living they are describing (whether 'our', 'your', 'their' or some other possessive form); if they do not include it then they are speaking more generally, about the concept or general idea of living without electricity without specifying any particular group or individual. The form without the possessive adjective can, of course, be used when it is plain from the context whose living is being referred to.

 

The form presented in the original question ('We can't imagine ourselves living without electricity') is not incorrect. The constuction is [verb + object + participle clause/phrase]:

I imagine a man walking on a beach.

I imagine a cat playing with a ball.

In the poster's example the object is a reflexive pronoun but the construction has not changed:

I imagine myself walking on a beach.

The cat imagines itself playing with a ball.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

You're right. I made a few errors when typing last night. It should have said possessive adjective and not possessive pronoun. I wouldn't say that his is necessarily wrong. I think he wanted the answer, "What can't you imagine?", which opens a gerund phrase. "I can't imagine it", wherein "it" is "our living without electricity." How about my subjunctive examples?

Hello Elmar H.

I'm not sure where that sentence is from. It looks perfectly fine to me.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Excuse me!
The sentence: " I like to keep a few photographs with myself to remind myself of the old days. How do I correct? Many thanks.

Hello Pham Bui Dan Thuy,

This is explained in the Warning box above on this page:

we use personal pronouns, not reflexives, after prepositions of place (e.g. 'He had a suitcase beside him') and after 'with' when it means 'accompanied by' (e.g. 'She had a few friends with her').

In the sentence from the exercise, 'with' means 'accompanied by', so the normal pronoun 'me' is the correct form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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."

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