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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:

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 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.

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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

Why question 8 is incorrect?

because there is no need to use the preposition (by) it should be mr. ..... came himself

Hi Atmane,

As is explained above, "by" is used with a reflexive pronoun to mean that someone did something alone or without help. The reflexive pronoun after a noun or pronoun emphasises the person or thing referred to by that noun or pronoun.

In sentence 8 of the second exercise, the director was not alone, because there were a lot of stars present. Therefore "by himself" cannot be correct. "The director himself" means that the director (and this is emphasised) was also there, in addition to the stars.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

Few days ago I ask you about the use of "by + reflexive pronouns". In your explanation you said that "by + reflexive pronouns" is used to tell that "one did something alone" or "someone did something without any help". But, in other resources i read that if we want to say "someone did something without any help", we use reflexive pronouns only (without preposition 'by')and we put them at the end of the sentence.

So, which one is correct? ... .... .... ... Could you help?

Many thanks

Henny

Hi Henny,

I trust that you have seen my response to your first comment below, but am responding now just in case you haven't.

If you have any further questions about this, please don't hesitate to ask us.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

I would like to ask you about the use of reflexive pronouns. I have read your explanation about it, but there is information that makes me confused. You said when we want to show that someone did something alone and/or without any help, we use a reflexive with the preposition by.

He lived by himself in an enormous house.
She walked home by herself.

The children got dressed by themselves.
I prepared the whole meal by myself.

I once read if we want to tell someone that we do something without any help, we use the reflexive pronoun at the end of the sentence without "by". So, if we want to say "She books the hotel without any help." using reflexive pronoun, it will be "She books the hotel herself"

If we use preposition "by" in that sentence "She books the hotel by herself.", the meaning is different. it means that no one accompany her when she books the hotel"

So, which is correct? So far, I always tell my students that "by + reflexive pronoun" means "alone or without any friends"

Could you help me to give further explanation about this use?

Thanks so much :-)

Hi Henny,

You are correct in thinking that "by oneself" (or any other reflexive pronoun) means "alone" or "without company or help". So "Fatima booked the hotel by herself" means that Fatima booked the hotel without any help from any other person.

"Fatima booked the hotel herself" means something different. In this case, the reflexive pronoun emphasises that Fatima (and not another person) booked the hotel. If someone said "Fatima booked the hotel herself", the idea is that she, and not, for example, her secretary Michael (who normally books her hotels) booked the hotel this time.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I have two questions. 
1. It is being said that "We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves." But later in the lesson there is this sentence "She walked home by herself." Walk is a verb that we do for ourselves. So as I get it can we say that the rule I have mentioned here can be avoided if we are using the reflexive pronoun after the preposition "by". 
for example can we say, he washed in cold water by himself. (This sentence sounds a bit odd.)

2. This problem is not related to the lesson. In the lesson there is a sentence "I had to content myself with a few Euros.", but in the exercise there's a sentence "There's masses of food". In the comments section I read that in the latter sentence 'is' is used as the main noun is food rather than taking into account the quantifier. So in the same manner isn't it wrong to use 'a' in the first sentence? Or is Euros a singular noun?

Hello Gamaya,
Thank you for some interesting questions.
In the example you give in your first question you need to notice the extra word 'by', which shows that the reflexive pronoun is being used here as part of a set phrase.  Compare the two sentences:
'She walked home herself.' [this would be an example of a reflexive pronoun after a verb which describes something we usually do for ourselves, and is an unnatural sentence]
'She walked home by herself.' [this is an example of 'herself' used in the phrase 'by herself', meaning 'without anyone else'; it is a perfectly acceptable sentence]
 
In your second example the 'a' is also part of a set phrase: 'a few'.  This is part of the set of quantifiers - 'some', 'many', 'a lot of', 'a few', 'no' and so on.
We use 'a few' with plural count nouns, such as 'Euros'; the equivalent for uncount nouns would be 'a little'.
'There are a few Euros on the table.' ['are' because 'Euros' is plural]
'There is a little money on the table.' ['is' because 'time' is an uncount noun]
 
I hope that clarifies it for you.
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

This question is not related to this lesson. I saw it in the comments section. My question is what is the difference between the following two sentences. "He always shaved before going out in the evening." and "He always shaves before going out in the evening."

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