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 fell over and hurt myself.
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
Reflexive pronouns 1

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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 intensively 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 intensively for emphasis:

I baked the bread myself.
She mended the car herself.

Reflexive pronouns 2

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Reflexive pronouns 3

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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.

Reflexive pronouns 4

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Reflexive pronouns 5

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Submitted by bibi on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 22:35

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hello, Does reflexive pronouns have grammatical category of number? and if yes explain me please?

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 06:59

In reply to by bibi

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Hello bibi,

In the table at the top of the page you can see the singular and plural reflexive pronouns. Since some are singular and some are plural, they do have number.

I think I've answered your question, but if not, please feel free to ask again.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Rissa on Thu, 18/02/2021 - 08:11

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Hi, Is the word 'ourself' really exist? If yes, what is the difference between ourself and ourselves? Thanks in advance

Hi Rissa,

Yes, it does exist! Ourself is sometimes used instead of ourselves when a speaker uses we but is referring to a single person rather than a group of people. Here are some examples, where the speaker is referring to the listener, or each listener (i.e. a single person):

  • We must choose which aspects of ourself to express to the world.
  • Let's ask ourself a question.

However, some people consider this to be incorrect.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

Submitted by Shoaib50 on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 18:44

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Hello Team, Which one is correct and need your explanation please ? 1. I love myself. 2. I love to myself.

Submitted by samira_kitten on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 12:22

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hello which one is correct she needs to bring an umbrella with (her or herself)in case it rains.

Hello samira_kitten,

A reflexive pronoun is not correct here in standard British English -- the correct form is 'with her'.

Though really if I were writing, I'd probably not include the prepositional phrase beginning with 'with'. It's redundant -- in other words, the verb 'bring' already includes the idea. 

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Naila on Fri, 17/07/2020 - 11:17

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hi.can you help me to solve this test,please? how many variants are correct?I want to meet the teacher.... myself yourself. himself. .herself. ourselves. A.2. B. 3. C4. D. 5

Hello Naila,

You could use myself, himself or herself here, depending on the context.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by H_L on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 00:01

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Hello, Can you please explain to me what are transitive verbs? or point me in the right direction? I couldn't find it under verbs here in the grammar section. I always read it in dictionaries when I'm searching for a new word. I read what it means but I didn't really get it! I can't tell if verbs are transitive or not? Is there a list of transitive verbs I should study?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 07:44

In reply to by H_L

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Hello H_L,

Verbs can be divided according to whether or not they take an object.

 

Verbs which have an object are called transitive verbs.

I patted the dog - the verb 'pat' has an object ('the dog'); it is a transitive verb

 

Verbs which do not have an object are called intransitive verbs.

I get up at 6.00 - the verb 'get up' has no object; it is an intransitive verb

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I understand now. Thank you so much for this simple and clear explanation.

Submitted by Chang on Thu, 30/04/2020 - 16:36

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Hi, in eg " Do you have any photos of ___? We need one for the website." "yourself" is key, so it means a photo taken by yourself or a photo about you?

Hello Chang,

A photo of yourself means that you are in the picture.

A photo you took yourself means that you were holding the camera.

Your photo could mean either.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by guin on Sat, 11/01/2020 - 03:16

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Hi. May I know why the answer to the following sentence in relaxive pronouns 2 exercise is 'myself' instead of 'me'? I attached the document to an email and sent it to _. The object is the same as the verb, so reflexive is used. However, isn't 'to' a preposition of place, therefore object pronounce is used? Thanks in advance!

Hi guin,

Reflexive pronouns can be used as the object of a preposition as long as the preposition is not a preposition of place. The rule is actually on the page:

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by guin on Sat, 11/01/2020 - 10:19

In reply to by Peter M.

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Hi. Hmm.. isn't it 'to' a preposition of place, so reflexive can't be used here? Thanks!

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 12/01/2020 - 07:12

In reply to by guin

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Hi again,

In your example, 'to' is a preposition of movement, not of place.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by J Tan on Sun, 27/10/2019 - 02:08

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Hello. I like to know if we may write as follows: 1) My sister saw the president himself and shook his hands. 2) My sister saw the president herself and shook his hands. Hope to hear from you. Thanks.

Hello J Tan,

Both sentences are correct.

In the first sentence, 'himself' adds emphasis to 'the president', underlining that the president is a special person.

In the second sentence, 'herself' emphasises that it was the sister who saw the president, not someone else.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Backlight on Wed, 16/10/2019 - 07:11

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Hello,Good Afternoon. "OF" is not belonging to preposition for the reflexive pronouns? because the exercise said after of is also using reflexive pronouns.

Hello Backlight,

Do you have an example which you could quote? It is possible to use pronouns like myself, yourself etc after prepositions, but this is not because of the preposition, but rather because the verb or the meaning of the sentence requires it

For example:

He thinks of himself all the time.

We use 'himself' because we need an object and we do not use a normal object pronoun (him) when the subject is the same (he). In other words, it is not the preposition 'of' which makes us use himself here, but rather the verb and the sentence construction.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gauravkandoria on Thu, 10/10/2019 - 13:37

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Isn't the statement "Maybe in a while, if you behave yourself", a right answer to 5 question of exercise "Reflexive Pronouns 4".

Hello gauravkandoria,

The pronoun used in question 5 is 'we' (...can we have...), so a plural reflexive pronoun is needed (yourselves not yourself).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ali sirous on Tue, 01/10/2019 - 11:55

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Hi! Could you please be more specific about the position of reflexive pronouns for emphasizing, I mean, what does it mean if we use it immediately after the subject or if we use it at the end of the sentence? Thank you for your time and consideration

Hello ali sirous,

There is not a great difference, in my view, but I think placing the reflexive pronoun immediately after the subject makes the sentence sound more formal. It is less common and add more emphasis because it is more self-consciously rhetorical.

It's more common to place the reflexive pronoun at the end:

I myself have never done this. [more formal]

I've never done this myself. [more common in everyday speech]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Elisa on Mon, 30/09/2019 - 11:51

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Hello, is it possible to say: "He wants to improve himself." - as "to improve" already has a reflexive meaning in English? Wouldn't "He wants to improve all by himself." be a better choice for emphatic use?

Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 01/10/2019 - 06:47

In reply to by Elisa

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Hello Elisa

Although we do talk about 'self-improvement' and in a quick internet search I did find a page where someone talked about improving herself, to me it sounds a little strange to use 'improve' reflexively in this way. You could improve some specific skill or your living conditions, for example. 'all by himself' expresses the idea of him improving without anyone else's help.

If you explain the context a bit more, we can help you find a way to say what you mean.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anna from germany on Thu, 26/09/2019 - 08:05

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Hello, Could you please tell me whether both of these sentences are correct: -I take a picture of me. -I take a picture of myself. Thank you. Regards, Anna

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 27/09/2019 - 08:24

In reply to by anna from germany

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Hello Anna,

The second sentence (with myself) is correct.

You can describe a picture using a normal object pronoun (me, you, him etc):

This is a picture of me.

 

However, when an action is performed by a person on themselves, we use reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself etc).

I took a picure of myself.

 

We also use reflexive pronouns when there would otherwise be ambiguity:

'Paul has a picture of him' could be about someone else (not Paul).

'Paul has a picture of himself' make it clear that the picture is of Paul.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by scoutie on Sat, 17/08/2019 - 22:03

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Can someone explain why Shakespeare uses a reflexive pronoun in Act 2 Scene 1 of Twelfth Night: He left behind him myself and a sister, both born in an hour: if the heavens had been pleased, would we had so ended!

Hello scoutie

'myself' refers to the speaker; 'He' left behind two people, the speaker and a sister. English has changed quite a lot since the time Shakespeare was writing, and in any case, what his characters say is often in verse, which sometimes requires an extra syllable or two.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Larrie on Tue, 30/07/2019 - 17:48

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Hello Is this sentence correct: Anyone could hurt themself.? or must it say 'themselves'?

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 31/07/2019 - 10:28

In reply to by Larrie

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Hello Larrie

I would say 'themselves' here, but I suspect you could find others who prefer 'themself'. Actually, most native speakers would probably try to avoid this form by saying something like 'Someone could get hurt' instead.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by morca on Mon, 14/01/2019 - 13:24

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He busy himself cleaning the car

Submitted by Momocompanyman on Mon, 05/11/2018 - 17:49

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Hello Sir , In the activities above we have the sentence: He (cut) himself shaving today. but I d'ont understand the tense of the verb : cut, normally we say : He cuts. Best wishes

Hi medmomo,

'cut' is an irregular verb. The base form, past simple form and past participle forms are all the same: 'cut'. In the example sentence you ask about, 'cut' is in the past simple. The present simple wouldn't make sense here, as you rightly point out.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Fri, 14/09/2018 - 04:55

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I have a question about adding s to her , your , their etc. Hers means belonging to her, and even her means belonging to she/her. Similar is the case with yours/your and theirs/their. Then what exactly is the use of hers, yours, theirs when all those mean almost the same thing as her, your, their. Thanking you Regards

Hello dipakrgandhi

The words my, your, his, her, our and their are examples of possessive adjectives. They are used before nouns:

This is my book.

Where is their car?

The words mine, yours, his, hers, ours and theirs are examples of possessive pronouns. They are used instead of nouns:

This is mine.

Where is theirs?

 

You can read more about possessive forms here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ricardo A on Tue, 21/08/2018 - 23:50

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"I prepared the whole meal by myself" Can i just use "alone" instead "by myself"? Thank you!

Hello Ricardo,

Both forms are possible, but there is a difference in meaning.

We use by myself when we want to emphasise that we did not need any help. It is often a positive claim,  showing how independent or capable a person is.

We use alone to say that we did not have company; we were the only person involved. It is often a negative claim, showing that the person is not happy that they did not have any help.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by tekdung554 on Mon, 01/01/2018 - 15:26

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Hi there, What is the correct one for following sentences. 1. They were feeling very sorry themselves. 2. She quickly washed herself and dressed herself as she was already late for work.

Hello tekdung,

Unless I've misunderstood what is meant, I'm afraid neither one is correct. I'd recommend 'sorry for themselves' in 1 and 'quickly washed and got dressed' in 2.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NourSfieh on Tue, 28/11/2017 - 08:25

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Hi dear ; "There was a large number of stars present. The director by himself was also there." why it is wrong please. Regards Nour

Hello Nour,

Verbs after the quantifier 'a number of' (or 'a large number of'), which is used with plural nouns (in this case 'stars'), normally go in the plural. In other words, although 'a large number' is singular, since it refers to a group of many people, the verb is also plural.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Nour, Regarding the task of the exercise (using the correct form of the reflexive pronoun), using "the director BY HIMSELF" is incorrect. If you scroll up just a little bit you will see the correct form referring to important people is "himself" !! No BY ! The correct form here would be " The director himself...". I hope this was useful.

Submitted by Wang Zijian on Fri, 24/11/2017 - 11:28

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I want to ask what's the difference between 'He baked the bread by himself', 'He himself baked the bread' and 'He baked the bread himself'? Thank you in advance!