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. I have a question that I try to search to found answer. 'I believe myself to be smart' is correct, but 'I want myself to resign' is wrong. Could you tell me differences between them? Thanks.

Hello Aruji,

When we say 'I want him to...' we are suggesting that he may not agree with our wish. It is not possible, logically speaking, for a person to disagree with their own wish: if they want to resign then they simply do so, and so it makes no sense to talk about your own desire in this way. The sentence is not grammatically wrong, but rather does not make sense.

In 'I believe myself to be smart' we are saying 'I believe that I am smart' and, clearly, this does make sense. This is different from the first example because it is an opinion about something which we may be wrong about. In contrast, we could not say 'I believe myself to love her' because we assume that we are not wrong about our own feelings - this would be similarly illogical to the first example.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher, Good day.. May I know, which is the correct answer? 1) Can she draw the tree herself? We will help her if her cannot. Or 2) Can she draw the tree herself? We will help her if she cannot. Thank you
Hi people. I was reading Arthur Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and came across an interesting usage of the reflexive pronouns in the book's foreword, when the author is discussing a possible encounter between humans and aliens: "Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?" Am I wrong to say that the reflexive pronoun here (along with "we") works as a subject of the sentence? Could you show me some other examples of this? It seems as if a comparison between someone else's opinion or action and our own is necessary in order for this to work. Thank your for your time, Igor

Hi Igor90,

The reflexive pronoun here is simply a way of emphasising the identity of the subject.

They themselves like to do this.

He himself has lived there for many years.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Taro007,

That's not a correct sentence, no. I would guess that the sentence you are trying to say is:

He lives alone in a big house and I'm afraid he can't take care of himself.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Many times I gets confused myself with the order of the sentences. For Ex: As per my knowledge, the solution is correct. (OR) The solution is correct, as per my knowledge. which one is correct? Please explain me on how to determine which one comes first. Thanks, Ananth.

Hi Ananth,

In many sentences in English the word order is flexible and that is true with this sentence. You can say it in either of these ways; both are correct.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, everyone, There is a question that I have not found its answer by myself up to now. The formation of reflexive pronoun is : Possessive adjective + self (singular) or selves (plural) as we all have already known, e.g. my+self, your+self, your+selves, our+selves, her+self, its+self. But why are they "himself" instead of "hisself" as well as "themselves" instead of "theirselves" ? Thank you for all your answers in advance.

Hello phanphiphong,

It's an interesting question but I'm afraid there's no answer to it that I'm aware of. These things grow up by convention rather than by following explicit rules. If I had to guess as to the reason then I would say that ease of pronunciation is probably the cause - it is harder to say 'hisself' than 'himself' and so this was probably preferred and became the standard. This is purely supposition, of course.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teachers, Good day! I am confused about the usage of 'by + reflexive pronoun' and 'put the reflexive pronoun at the end of the clause when we are using it for emphasis''. For example, 'I prepared the whole meal by myself.'--means I prepared the meal 'alone' or 'without any help'. But in my opinion, 'I prepared the whole meal myself' could mean that I prepared the meal alone as well. So, which sentence is correct? Thank you very much!

Hi peter jiajia,

Both sentences are correct, but the meaning is a little different.

I cooked it by myself - there was only me

I cooked it myself - it was I who did it, not someone else

The second sentence implies that it was cooked alone, but that is not the main information. This can be important:

I will talk to him by myself - no-one else will be present

I will talk to him myself - I will not delegate this to anyone else (though the conversation may be public)

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I'm trying to write a scientific paper, and I would appreciate if you can tell me if the usage of itself is correct in this phrase: " Many xenobiotics are metabolized by conjugation with reduced glutathione (GSH); high doses can deplete GSH and cause oxidative stress even if the xenobiotic is not itself a generator of reactive species." Or Should I change the order? Any other mistake? Thanks.

Hello Fiorella,

Really you should consult a proofreader for this sort of question, but I'll say that your sentence looks correct to me, as far as I understand it. But really, please check with a professional proofreader.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I'm an ESL teacher, and came across this to describe one use of reflexive pronouns: "We also use reflexive pronouns after most prepositions when the complement is the same as the subject." And the example they provide is: "I managed to complete the crossword! I was really proud of myself." I understand what they're getting at in my own mind, but explaining this to students and giving other examples is another matter entirely. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Hello Fasttrack,

Think about it this way: is she saying some words to herself, i.e. speaking out loud to herself? Then it would be a reflexive pronoun. Or is she (and not some other person) saying something? Then it would be an emphatic pronoun.

In this case, it's the latter (see the second definition of 'latter' in our dictionary).

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Sir i am facing problem in rule "Some verbs change their meaning slightly when they have a reflexive pronoun as direct object:" I make mistake here and unable to form sentences because i do not get to know the word i used there is correct or not" 2 question what do we mean by direct and indirect objects?

Hello jalaj,

A direct object is a noun or pronoun on which the action of a verb is done.

An indirect object is the noun or pronoun for whom the action of the verb is done or who receives the direct object. The indirect object is often preceded by a preposition. There must be a direct object to have an indirect object; we do not have indirect objects on their own.

For example, in these sentences the direct object is 'the book'; the indirect object is underlined:

I gave him the book.

I gave the book to him.

You can find more information on this here.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for the exercises In exercise 2 question 1, is it incorrect because feel very sorry is a verb like wash (usually done for themselves)?

Hello colorin,

The sentence should be 'sorry for themselves'. In this case, the reflexive pronoun is the object of a preposition and this object refers to the subject of the clause. You can find two other examples of this in the explanation above:

They had to cook for themselves.
He was feeling very sorry for himself.

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Teachers, About question number 2 why is it correct?.As you said that we do not use a reflexive pronoun after verb which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave and dress.

Hello princeherry,

You are correct that the explantion says that 'we do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress'. However, it goes on to say that 'we only use reflexives with these verbs for emphasis'. In question 2, the reflexive pronoun is for emphasis, underlining the fact that in spite of her age she does not need help with the activity.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher about question number 8 why is incorrect? as u said We use a reflexive pronoun... • with the preposition by when we want to show that someone did something alone and/or without any help. please explain. thanks

Hello raneemeh,

The error in number 8 in the second exercise is that 'by myself' should come at the end of the sentence. 'by myself' normally goes somewhere in the predicate, i.e. after the verb.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everybody, hello teachers, In exercise 1, question 6: It's a very clever machine. It turns ............... off. (itself is the answer) Why don't we put the reflexive pronoun at the end as one of the rules you explained is : "We often put the reflexive pronoun at the end of the clause when we are using it for emphasis". For me it sounds better when I say : "It's a very clever machine. It turns off itself". Thank you in advance four your explanation.

Hello Mypink,

'Turn off' is a separable multi-word verb. That means that the object can go between the main verb ('turn') and the particle ('off'), or after the particle:

I turned the light off.

I turned off the light.

However, if the object is a pronoun, it must go before the particle:

I turned it off.

'Itself' is a reflexive pronoun and follows the rule for other pronouns. Therefore we must use it before the particle:

The machine turned itself off.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello shadyar,

Thank you for trying to help another user. However, this is not the correct explanation. In the sentence 'himself' simply emphasises that the man is doing (or not doing) the drinking, not another person. It does not tell us if he is alone or with others. To mean that, we would use the phrase 'by himself'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

please, I want to know ..... why is this correct? Although he kept a large collection of whiskies, he rarely drank himself.

Hello marwalosny,

I can confirm that the sentence is correct but I'm not sure how I can explain why it is so as I'm not sure why you think it should not be! Why does this sentence seem odd or surprising to you?

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi kahina_ch Concerning your question , I would like to add this point that "food" is an uncountable noun and uncountable noun has just one form. It means that you can't add for example "s" to it .Therefore it should be used with singular verb. So "there are massives food…" is wrong. In the same way we say " There is some milk on the floor."Because milk is an UC noun. Regards Shadyar

Hello shadyar,

Thank you for your comment - it's great to see users helping each other. You are correct that food is generally an uncountable noun but note that it can also be countable if it has the meaning of 'different foodstuffs'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher, Why the Question 6 is incorrect? It has some fomart like the example “He dressed himself in spite of his injuries.” Because "she was late for her work" is also want to emphasis. Another question about direct object and indirect object. Can we use below method to check? We can take the indirect object out of the sentences, then we will found the meaning of the sentence has not change. Is this method can be used or not? One more question, "You might cut yourself." There is no indirect object in the sentence, right? Thanks for your help. Best regards, Zheng Zhe

Hi Zheng Zhe,

The sentence is Q6 is incorrect because, as the explanation says, 'We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress'. Your example is different because the person is injured, meaning that dressing him/herself in this situation was not something usually done - usually a nurse would help.

The method you suggest with indirect objects is not good in all cases. For example, take the sentence 'Give Paul the letter'. Here, 'Paul' is the indirect object and 'the letter' is the direct object. If we remove the indirect object we have 'Give the letter', which does not make sense.

You are correct with your third question - there is no indirect object in that sentence.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

dear please i need to know the differences between it is long time since they have enjoyed themselves and it has been long time since they enjoyed themselves

Hello hamadbaghdadi,

It's hard to be certain without knowing the context, but I would say that these two sentences have essentially the same meaning.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter.. I'm going to chat my friend in Arizona ... but it's been a long time we did not chat to each other so which one should I use? 'It is long time since the last time we have chatted' or 'It's been long time since the last time we chatted'? Thanks a lot for your help

Hello nick_axe,

There are lots of ways to say this but I think the most common would be:

It's been a long time since we last chatted.

It's been a long time since our last chat.

We haven't chatted for a long time.

Enjoy your chat!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Syahrul Ryuji Utomo,

The sentence is missing a preposition. It should say 'sorry for themselves'.

You can see the answers by clicking the 'Finish' button.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everyone, could you tell why in the sentense "Ladies and gentlemen. There's masses of food, so please help ...." we do not say "...there are masses of food..." as "masses" is plural????? best regards

Hi kahina_ch,

It's true that, strictly speaking, the correct form here is 'there are' for exactly the reason you describe. Sometimes in informal speech, however, the singular form is used when the plural ought to be. I wouldn't recommend imitating this, but you will find it from time to time in your reading and listening.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team