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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Hello Wang Zijian,

The first sentence 'by himself' means that nobody helped him.

The other two sentences both mean that the bread was not bought or done by someone else, though the person may have had some help. These sentences are used to give credit to someone - this was his work, not someone else's. The difference between the two sentences is one of rhetorical strength: 'He himself...' has a more literary feel to it and is a phrase which might be used in a formal speech, for exampe, rather than in everyday conversation.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir , hope you're in the peak of your health. Sir I have a little confusion with the following sentence. Welcome to the party, everyone! Just help YOURSELVES/YOURSELF to the snacks and drinks. As per my understanding it should be YOURSELVES as it means all the guests but as 'everyone' is given should it be YOURSELF?

Hello amrita,

'yourselves' is the correct form here. Although 'everyone' is singular, 'help yourselves' is a separate verb phrase and, more importantly, the meaning is clearly plural.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

With regards to the sentence "Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself", I couldn't really understand why it is considered correct. I couldn't understand it as it sounds weird. Could you please explain the use of "himself" in the sentence?

Hello Siomara,

You could just say 'he rarely drank', but using 'himself' puts more emphasis on the contrast between what one might expect and what is true. The idea is that this man is different from typical expectations. One might think that someone who has a large collection of whiskies would enjoy drinking whisky and do it often. This man is not like this and the reflexive pronoun emphasises this.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello Tawaf Ahmad,

Both questions mean the same thing, but we use 'what' and 'which' slightly differently. If there is a specific group of books you've been talking about, then 'which' is the best form. If you haven't been speaking about any specific books, then 'what' would be better.

See our interrogative determiners page for more examples of this. I'd suggest reading through the comments on that page where other users have asked similar questions.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Good friends respect each other as individuals and are able to tell differences of opinions without allowing themselves to threaten the relationship. Is the use of reflexive pronoun correct? Thank you.

Hello Psyche,

That depends on what the pronoun refers to.

Good friends respect each other as individuals and are able to express differences of opinion without allowing themselves to threaten the relationship.

Here 'themselves' refers to 'good friends'.

 

Good friends respect each other as individuals and are able to express differences of opinion without allowing them to threaten the relationship.

Here 'them' refers to 'differences of opinion' (note the singular is used in this phrase).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much. This is very helpful. I fully understand now the use of the reflexive pronoun in the sentence.
Hello, Why this clause is incorrect and we can't use "ourselves"? We can't imagine ourselves living without electricity.

Hello Elmar H.

I'm not sure where that sentence is from. It looks perfectly fine to me.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

It's very technical English. The word "living" in that sentence is actually a gerund. A gerund acts as a noun despite "its looking" like a a verb. Since it's acting as if it were a true noun despite "its not being" the case, it takes a possessive pronoun; therefore, the sentence, in the most correct English as possible (the Queen's English), should read, "We can't imagine our living without electricity." To prove this, ask yourself the sentence in a question: "What can't we imagine?" Answer: "Our living without electricity is something that we can't imagine. We just can't imagine 'it'." I hope that might have helped you out.

Hi Nick2004,

It is certainly perfectly fine to say 'We can't imagine our living without electricity' but it is also perfectly correct to say 'We can't imagine living without electricity'. The possessive adjective ('our' is not a possessive pronoun) here is possible but by no means required. If the speaker includes it then they are specifying whose living they are describing (whether 'our', 'your', 'their' or some other possessive form); if they do not include it then they are speaking more generally, about the concept or general idea of living without electricity without specifying any particular group or individual. The form without the possessive adjective can, of course, be used when it is plain from the context whose living is being referred to.

 

The form presented in the original question ('We can't imagine ourselves living without electricity') is not incorrect. The constuction is [verb + object + participle clause/phrase]:

I imagine a man walking on a beach.

I imagine a cat playing with a ball.

In the poster's example the object is a reflexive pronoun but the construction has not changed:

I imagine myself walking on a beach.

The cat imagines itself playing with a ball.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

You're right. I made a few errors when typing last night. It should have said possessive adjective and not possessive pronoun. I wouldn't say that his is necessarily wrong. I think he wanted the answer, "What can't you imagine?", which opens a gerund phrase. "I can't imagine it", wherein "it" is "our living without electricity." How about my subjunctive examples?
To add to what I originally posted on this subject about "living without electricity" is a gerund phrase that replaces the direct object pronoun "it" in this situation: First, in standard, everyday English, one will hear "ourselves" said here or more often will hear it said, "We can't imagine living without electricity." The reason is that when the possessive pronoun is already known in the gerund phrase, English speakers usually drop it; therefore, one would say, "We can't remember ever doing that"; however, if the subject of the gerund phrase were to change (which technically is not a subject since it uses a possessive pronoun), it would read this way: "We can't remember his ever doing that" or "We can't remember their ever doing that" because the question is obviously, "What can't you remember?"; it's not asking, "Whom can't you remember doing that?" In fact, the latter question using "whom" can't even be written in correct English because it's unintelligible for the most part.
To add to what I originally posted on this subject about "living without electricity" being a gerund phrase that replaces the direct object pronoun "it" in this situation: First, in standard, everyday English, one will hear "ourselves" said here or more often will hear it said, "We can't imagine living without electricity." The reason is that when the possessive pronoun is already known in the gerund phrase, English speakers usually drop it; therefore, one would say, "We can't remember ever doing that"; however, if the subject of the gerund phrase were to change (which technically is not a subject since it uses a possessive pronoun), it would read this way: "We can't remember his ever doing that" or "We can't remember their ever doing that" because the question is obviously, "What can't you remember?"; it's not asking, "Whom can't you remember doing that?" In fact, the latter question using "whom" can't even be written in correct English because it's unintelligible for the most part
Excuse me! The sentence: " I like to keep a few photographs with myself to remind myself of the old days. How do I correct? Many thanks.

Hello Pham Bui Dan Thuy,

This is explained in the Warning box above on this page:

we use personal pronouns, not reflexives, after prepositions of place (e.g. 'He had a suitcase beside him') and after 'with' when it means 'accompanied by' (e.g. 'She had a few friends with her').

In the sentence from the exercise, 'with' means 'accompanied by', so the normal pronoun 'me' is the correct form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

There was a large number of stars present. The director by himself was also there. Why is it incorrect?

Hello Isuru Lakmal,

Although 'a large number' in the phrase 'a large number of stars' is singular and so the singular verb form 'there was' makes sense, a plural verb ('there were') is used here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

There is nothing wrong with your first sentence depending upon where in the English-speaking world you may be from and how you may be using this. In American English, the collective nouns are almost always treated as a unit; therefore, "There was a large number of stars present" would be correct in American English. In British English, however, collective nouns depend on whether the speaker may be treating "a [] number of stars" as a unit or as individuals. Another example is the word "family": in American English, family is always treated as a unit; therefore one would say, "The family is one of the oldest in the country" when clearly talking about the family as a unit and one would also say, "The family is scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." Clearly, "family in the latter sense is talking about the "family members", so in British English, it would probably be heard as such: "The family are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." However, for the verb to be plural in American English, one would have to collocate "members" to the word "family": "The family members are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted."
I was wrong; I apologize. It should be, "There were a large number of stars present." The idiom "a number of" means "several" here. I mistook it to mean a "group". I was just making an argument for it, though; I would always have said and written it with "There were". Sometimes it does depend on the English-speaking world you may be from and how you may be using this. In American English, the collective nouns are almost always treated as a unit; therefore, "There was a large 'group' of stars present" would be correct in American English. In British English, however, collective nouns depend on whether the speaker may be treating "a [] number of stars" as a unit or as individuals. Another example is the word "family": in American English, family is always treated as a unit; therefore one would say, "The family is one of the oldest in the country" when clearly talking about the family as a unit and one would also say, "The family is scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." Clearly, "family in the latter sense is talking about the "family members", so in British English, it would probably be heard as such: "The family are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted." However, for the verb to be plural in American English, one would have to collocate "members" to the word "family": "The family members are scared of living in the house because the house is haunted."
Hi, Sir. in this example he said 'I prepared the whole meal by myself.' but in this example he said 'I baked the bread myself' why he used 'by myself' in the first and he just used 'myself' in the next because I think the meaning is so close. could you please explain that point?

Hello mohamedfathy,

In saying, 'by myself' means that he did it alone, without anyone else's help. 'myself' (as in the example you cite) emphasises that I baked the bread, not a different person. The meanings are very similar, but can be used to emphasise different points.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Regarding the first activity 8th question; Ladies and gentlemen. There's masses of food, so please help ............... Could anyone please tell me 1) the meaning of masses. 2) (There's or there're) masses of food?

Hello Isuru Lakmal Galappaththi,

The phrase 'masses of' is a quantifier and has a similar meaning to 'lots of'. It is an informal phrase, used in informal conversation rather than formal situations.

You can use this phrase with both countable and uncountable nouns and the question of 'is' or 'are' depends on this:

There is masses of time. ['time' is singular so we use 'is']

There are masses of people outside. ['people' is plural so we use 'are']

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

OK here is one that I constantly run into: "For further information, please contact Mr X or myself." I maintain that it should be: "For further information, please contact Mr X or me." The test I use is to drop the "Mr X". Therefore it would be: "For further information, please contact myself." Which makes no sense.

Hello AzzurroSI,

Reflexive pronouns are sometimes used in lists of people such as the one you mention, but it's more common to see a normal object pronoun. I, like you, prefer to use an object pronoun in such cases, but it is acceptable to use the reflexive pronoun in a certain style.

Nice work with your test – this is a great way to check grammar in general!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, can anyone help me explain why this sentence is correct ? "Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself". Thank you

Hello Salie108,

It's correct because it fits the rules of the language. I think it would be helpful if you explain why the sentence looks strange to you, and then we can respond to that.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Salie108,

Your sentence is perfectly fine too. In the original sentence the verb 'drank' has a general meaning: it refers to the fact that he rarely drinks (presumably alcohol) at all. In your sentence the verb has a more limited frame of reference: it is possible that he drinks alcohol, but not the whiskies.

In both sentences the reflexive pronoun is used for emphasis.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Salie108,

This would not be grammatically correct. You can use a present simple form here but you would need the third-person form ('drinks'). Whether past or present, however, the earlier comment still applies.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, why "She still dresses herself even though she's 93." is a correct sentence when you guys said "We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress: ??

Hello Saakshee,

As it says just below the three example sentences, it is possible to use the reflexive pronoun with 'dress' for emphasis. In the case of a 93-year-old, it seems reasonable to want to emphasise that they are able to take care of themselves in this way. In this exercise, there is not context to make this clear, but it is possible.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

IT was mentioned that reflexive pronoun can be as indirect object when the indirect object is the same as the subject of the verb. The indirect object in below example is not clear to me. Could you guide me to understand which is the indirect object here. "Would you like to pour yourself a drink."

Hello ktjayakumar,

In that sentence, 'yourself', a reflexive pronoun, can also be considered an indirect object, since the person who is to receive the drink ('yourself') is the same as the subject ('you'). Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there, In task 2, 3 questions are wrong, I rewrite them. Check them and let me know whether they are correct or not. 1. I like to keep a few photographs with myself to remind myself of the old days. Rewrite: I like to keep a few photographs and to remind myself of the old days. 2. She quickly washed herself and dressed herself as she was already late for work. Rewrite: She quickly washed and dressed herself as she was already late for work. 3. There was a large number of star present. The director by himself was also there. Rewrite: There was a large number of star present. The director was also there by himself. Many thanks

Hello Fatemeh Roostaei,

The sentences could be rewritten in different ways to make them correct. I would suggest the following:

1. I like to keep a few photographs with myself to remind myself of the old days.

I like to keep a few photographs of myself to remind me of the old days.

After 'remind' in thsi context an object pronoun is used, not a reflexive pronoun.

 

2. She quickly washed herself and dressed herself as she was already late for work.

She quickly washed and dressed as she was already late for work.

We don't need the reflexive pronouns here as we are not emphasising that she did these things instead of someone else doing them for her.

 

3. There was a large number of star present. The director by himself was also there.

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

The reflexive pronoun emphasises that the director is a special and important person. We could omit it but we would not use 'by himself' as that would suggest that he is alone, and we have already heard that there were many stars there.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, in the task 2 why the sentence " Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself" is correct? Thank you

Hello Irene93,

I'm not sure why you would think this is incorrect, so it's hard for me to explain why it is correct! It is an example of the last rule on the page:

We often put the reflexive pronoun at the end of the clause when we are using it for emphasis:

I baked the bread myself.
She mended the car herself

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team