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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



Thank you!

"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.



The LearnEnglish Team

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.

Two sentences are false

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi dear ;

"There was a large number of stars present. The director by himself was also there."

why it is wrong please.


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.

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

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!