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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 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:

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 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


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



First of all, thanks to you all that made a wonderful site like this possible. It has helped me so much in identifying my mistakes in speaking and writing english.

My question is this -- "Would you like to help yourself to another drink?
= Would you like to take another drink?" these two sentences are conveying the same message, as far as i understand it, but i fail to see what effect either of them has or can have in a sentence (if any, that is). can you please help me with this, please.

Hello Mazi,

Yes, these two sentences mean pretty much the same thing, though the first sounds more natural. Also consider that what 'take' means depends a lot on the context. For example, if some friends have popped in to see you at your flat and one of them has finished her drink, the first sentence would be natural, but the one with 'take' would imply something I don't think you mean – in that context, 'take' would imply that she'd go to get the drink from the fridge and then leave your flat. If by 'take' you mean 'consume/drink', then 'have' is a better choice than 'take'.

If you had a different context in mind, please explain it. It might also be a good idea to look at the example sentences for 'take' in the dictionary.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,
"They were very sorry themselves". I don't understand why this sentence is incorrect. Let me know why?
with regards,

Hello Phyo Wai Maung,

In general, if you use a reflexive pronoun in a sentence like this, the preposition 'for' precedes it: 'They felt very sorry for themselves', but since I don't know the context or what you want to say, I'm not sure that's appropriate for what you want to communicate. In this case, it expresses the idea that the people felt self-pity.

I'd suggest you take a look at the dictionary entry for 'sorry', where you can see lots of examples sentences that show how it's used. You're also welcome to respond if you want to explain what you're trying to say a bit more – perhaps we can give you a more definitive answer then. 

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

I don't understand the rule .. I am confuse :(

Hello PaolaPao,

I'm sorry to hear that you're confused. If you'd like us to, we're happy to help you, but we can't do that unless you ask us a specific question.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, all,

I don't understand why this sentence should be correct:

Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself.
Why don't I say: he rarely drink.

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