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
Reflexive pronouns 1

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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.

Reflexive pronouns 2

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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 Marybeth,

As is explained above, we use a reflexive pronoun as the object of a preposition when the object refers to the subject of the clause (e.g. 'He was feeling very sorry for himself.'). In the sentence you're asking about, the preposition 'for' is missing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, teachers. About the phrase 'Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself.' I see that the word 'himself' is underlined more clearly when in opposition with 'but others do'. Yet here we don't have the benefit of this continuation. I guess this isn't a problem for genuine English speakers, but isn't its use at the end of the sentence somewhat confusing even for them? As in mistaking it for the shorter, and more senseless, 'He drank himself.' Shouldn't the substitute 'He himself rarely drank' shatter the confusion and emphasise more of the actual meaning of the phrase?

Hello relu tanase,

The word order you suggest is fine, but so is the original word order. It is a question of style and emphasis for the writer (or speaker). The context makes the meaning perfectly clear so I don't think that there is any possibility of ambiguity with this form, particularly as this use of reflexive pronouns is quite common in English. I often use them in this way myself.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, would you please guide me the following sentence is correct or not? if not then what it should be? ''Don't be one of the bigots who consider themselves the only rightly guided people'' Best regards
instead I write" I want to speak the manager himself? I write" I want to speak his manager" is it correct? thank you

Hello lisa Tran,

Neither sentence is correct, I am afraid. You need to use 'to' after speak:

I want to speak to the manager himself

I want to speak to his manager

However, notice that the meaning is different here as you have changed 'the manager' (which is the person in charge of the whole business) to 'his manager' (which means simply the boss of a particular person).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I thought that the "busy" is used as adjective. But, here in this section, you used "busy" as verb. Please explain me. "He busied himself in the kitchen."

Hello Kyaw Nyein,

'Busy' can be both a verb and an adjective. When it is used as a verb it is always reflexive: I busy myself, you busy yourself etc. The meaning is 'to keep yourself busy' or 'to occupy your time'. For example:

While waiting for my friend, I busied myself preparing the salad for the party later.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir: There is a mistake in the word realized. The phase is: "He was surprised when he realised that...."

Hello Slow Learner,

This is not a mistake but a difference between UK and US English. In the US a 'z' is used. In the UK the spelling is 'realise'. There are many words that have this '-ize' / '-ise' ending.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi I'd ask about this question: I like to keep a few photographs with myself to remind myself of the old days. Where's the wrong? Does it could be: I like to keep a few photographs with me to remind myself of the old days.? Thank you

Hello Abou Maro,

The reflexive pronoun 'myself' isn't needed in this sentence at all – the correct form is 'I like to keep a few photographs with me to remind me of the old days'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Could you please help me in using the correct pronoun in the following sentence? Since I'm no longer part of the organisation, could you please remove 'me/myself' from the distribution list. Thank you in advance for your help. Kind Regards, Sujit

Hello Sujit,

What you need here is an object pronoun, since the pronoun is the object of the verb 'remove': 'me' is the correct form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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,
Kirk
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, PWM

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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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,
Kirk
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,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello LE team, I have a question. I cannot always tell whether reflexive pronoun alone or with the preposition "by" should be used. Let´s take your last two examples: I baked the bread myself. She mended the car herself. Why can´t I say I baked the bread by myself. She mended the car by herself. ? In my opinion the pairs of sentences would be identical. When I emphasize, I am the person who did it, I am also saying I did it without any help, aren´t I? Similarly: Susan painted the picture (by) herself. She is the person who painted the picture. And she did so without any help. In my opinion both are correct. We made the costumes (by) ourselves . (for example for a fancy dress party) We are the people who made the costumes. We didn´t have them made at a tailor´s and we made them without any help of other people. Again, I think both are correct. I have read about reflexive pronouns in a few grammar books and a few websites but this difference is still puzzling me. Thanks for any clearer explanations. Radovan

Hi Radovan,

You're absolutely right when you say that the sentences you refer to could be written with or without 'by' – they are correct both with and without 'by'. The two different versions, however, do have a different meaning in that they emphasise different things. This difference is subtle, so it sounds as if you're very close to understanding this.

  1. 'I baked the bread myself'.
  2. 'I baked the bread by myself'.

In 1, the emphasis is on the person versus another person. For example, imagine I've served someone some bread. They like it so much they ask me which bakery I bought it from. If I baked the bread, I might say 'I baked it myself'. Here it's as if I'm saying 'I baked it, not the baker'.

In 2, the emphasis is on the person alone, i.e. without any help. For example, children who've just learned to do something often use 'by myself' because they're often proud of what they've done without any help. So my son might say 'I baked it myself' if he's baked the bread without any help from anyone else.

As you can see, the difference is rather subtle, and there are probably times when 'by myself' could be used with a similar meaning to just 'myself', but there can be the difference that I've explained above.

I hope this helps clarify the issue for you. If you have any other specific questions about it, please let us know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir, I have got a wrong answer for the first Quiz of second part, please kindly explain me for the reason, Kind regards, Ina

Hello Ina,

I'm not completely sure which question you are referring to, but I think you mean the one where it has 'sorry' in it. If so, then the problem is that you need to say 'sorry for themselves' - the 'for' is necessary.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

There was a large number of stars present. The director by himself was also there. can't understand why this one incorrect :

Hello behappy,

In this context, the reflexive pronoun is used for emphasis, not to mean 'alone'. As the sentence says that 'a large number of stars were present' it would be difficult for the director to be alone!

 


Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The Learn English Team, Why (She still dresses herself even though she's 93.) is correct, despite the grammar is (We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress)?

Hello Jboul M,

This is explained above:

We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress:

He washed [himself] in cold water.
He always shaved [himself] before going out in the evening.
Michael dressed [himself] 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.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening, I wish I could solve the exercises from the "Activities" section of the Reflexive Pronouns chapter but the windows have narrowed and I can barely see/read half of each sentence proposed for solving. It seems there is an urgent need of an IT team intervention.

Hello Dragos,

Thanks for telling us about this technical problem, and we're sorry for the inconvenience. Our technical team is working on a solution and we hope it will be fixed soon. In the meantime, here are the answers to the first activity: 1. yourself, 2. ourselves, 3. myself, 4. herself, 5. themselves, 6. itself, 7. himself, 8. yourselves.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Teacher, In this sentence: "Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself." I still do not understand why we use "himself" here. Could you please explain for me! Thank you so much!

Hi vietlam248,

The reflexive pronoun here adds emphasis to the sentence. It means something like

...he rarely drank, though others did.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Fay,

Thanks for telling us, but please note that 'emphasise' is indeed spelt correctly. Look it up in the dictionary and you'll see that it is a verb ('emphasis' is a noun)!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The LearnEnglish Team, (They were feeling very sorry themselves.) Why is this incorrect?

Hello Harsha,

This is explained above:

We do not use a reflexive pronoun:
• as the object of a preposition when the object refers to the subject of the clause:
They had to cook for themselves.
He was feeling very sorry for himself.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

In 1 english book there is an exercise that i have to choose which sentences that has pronouns means independently. The sentences are as follows: 1. You shouldnt blame themselves for not passing the exam. It was difficult. 2. Mike's working part time. He has to pay for his studies himself. 3. Be careful with that knife-you dont want to cut yourself. 4. I grew these tomatoes myself. 5. Nobody helped us so we had to do it ourselves. 6. Please behave yourself. You are both very naughty. I hope you can help me with this coz it really confuses me. Which of those sentences does the reflexive pronoun means without any help/independently....? That is the exact question written in the book. I will be very happy if you can answer that for me. Thank you.

Hello Megay,

I suppose your book means sentences 2, 4 and 5, because in those sentences Mike doesn't get any help paying for his studies, you grew the tomatoes without help and we did the work without any help. I suppose that your textbook is referring to the following use (which I've copied from above on this page), but 'doing something independently' is more specific:

We use a reflexive pronoun to emphasise the person or thing we are referring to (e.g. Kendal itself is quite a small town.) or at the end of the clause when we are using it for emphasis (e.g. I baked the bread myself. / She mended the car herself.).

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

When is reflective pronoun used independently? A. Mike is working part time. He has to pay his studies himself. B. Please behave yourselves. You are both being naughty. C.i grew these tomatoes myself. D.be careful with that knife-you dont want to cut yoursel. Which of these sentences that has reflexive pronouns used independently?

Hello Megay,

I'm afraid I don't understand your question here. Some pronouns can be determiners ('I like this car') as well as pronouns ('I like this') and the latter use can be termed 'independent'. However, your examples include only reflexive pronouns which cannot be determiners, so this does not apply. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean, and we'll try to help.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team