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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



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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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).



The LearnEnglish Team

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]



The LearnEnglish Team

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?

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


The LearnEnglish Team


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