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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Reflexive pronouns 5

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Would you like to pour yourself a drink. We’ve brought ourselves something to eat.?? Is ((((a drink and eat a second object or direct object ))))))

Hello tala90,

The answer is on the page just above the examples:

as 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.

The reflexive pronouns ('yourself' and 'ourselves') are indirect objects. The direct objects in these sentences are 'a drink' and 'something to eat' as these are the things poured and bought, respectively.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

i am glad to be here, it is dificulted to signing in, i was several times trying to made account, but it had always failed, thanks Him, i am here know

Hello Tharanga1180,

You can say either of these, but the meaning is different.

'I learnt to build that web site myself' means that you did it as opposed to asking someone else to do it for you.

'I learnt to build that web site by myself' means that you were the only person involved; no-one helped you.

I hope that answers your question.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher, Can I say and that's be right? 1- I do my homework myself. 2- I talk to my self some time. 3- Please send the email to John or myself. 4- John and myself go to the market this morning. 5- I consider my self as a best writer in the world. 6- Sometimes we need to consider themselves as a human being. In the sentence 6 I mean can I use themselves when i don't know the gender (male or female). 7- I do the job by my self(no other one help me).
Hi, There's something I can't seem to grasp yet and I would really appreciate your help. Is the meaning the same in the following sentences? 1) He admitted his mistake himself. 2) He himself admitted his mistake. One last thing. The preposition "by" is always necessary when the verb is intransitive and it can be omitted when the verb is transitive. Is that right? Examples: I live by myself. I painted the flat (by) myself.

Hello Knightrider,

The meaning of the two sentences in your first question appears to be the same to me - certainly, I can't see any change.  Obviously, the style is different, with the second example being more rhetorically emphatic, rather more literary and less likely in everyday speech.

On your second question, you are correct in terms of needing 'by' with intransitive verbs, but there is a little more to it than that.  First of all, we should remember that we use a reflexive pronoun as a direct object when the subject and direct object of the verb are the same.  However, intransitive verbs do not have an object and so we do not use reflexive pronouns with them; hence we cannot say *I live myself*.

Transitive verbs can have direct objects and so we can use reflexive pronouns with them, but note this is different from your example: I painted myself. [and now I am a different colour]

The difficulty or confusion arises when we introduce two further uses of the reflexive pronoun, each with a different meaning.  The first is the reflexive pronoun as a way of emphasising who the actor is for a given action:

I painted the house.

I painted the house myself. [emphasising that it was I, not someone else, who did it]

This is one meaning - for emphasis.

The phrase 'by + reflexive pronoun' is a separate use and has a separate meaning.  It mean 'alone, without anyone else or any help':

I painted the house by myself. [no-one helped me]

The meanings are close and it is rare to see them used together for this reason, but it is possible to construct an utterance such as this, including both meanings:

I, myself, did it, not some contractor.  And I did it by myself too, without any help.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much Peter. Your reply is hugely helpful and crystal clear. I couldn't have asked for a better explanation. Thanks again.
Would you please help me in the difference of this sentence;: A) Nadia cut her with a knife. B) Nadia cut herself with a knife. Anothet thing: In this sentence is it correct in its form without using a prepostion " to " before me Yaser bought me a lovely present.

Hello opheliaotaibi,

In sentence A, there are two women - Nadia and another one (her) who Nadia cuts - and in B there is only one woman (Nadia). In sentence A, her is an object pronoun, which is explained on our personal pronouns page, whereas herself in sentence B is a reflexive pronoun, which means that it refers to the subject (Nadia).

The verb buy is one of many other verbs (e.g. give, make, send, show, write) that can have two objects. When they have two objects, most often the indirect object comes first without any preposition, which is the case in the sentence you ask about - me is the indirect object, and a lovely present is the direct object.

An alternative form of this sentence is "Yaser bought a lovely present for me." When the indirect object comes after the direct object, it normally has the preposition to or for. to is more commonly used than for, but with the verb buy, for is more commonly used.

I hope that helps!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! i have a question about She still dresses herself even though she's ninety-three. Why this sentence is correct? Can you explain it?

Hi angelali,

As is explained above, it is possible to use herself here for emphasis. In this sentence, the idea is that it's an achievement for someone who is 93 to be able to get dressed without any help from another person.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, i'm a new member in this site, it's really wonderful site. Now i confused that "my son walked to school all by himself today" is correct sentence because i think word "all' should be erased. I hope someone can explain me.

thanks

Hi Ramadhani_amir,

Welcome to LearnEnglish - we're glad to you know you find it useful.

It's possible to say "my son walked to school by himself", but the meaning is slightly different. "all" intensifies "by himself" - the sentence with "all" would, for example, be what a pround parent could say the first time that their son walked to school alone, or to insist that he walked alone when others say that their son went with other people.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello The Learn English Team,

I have been visiting this site for the last few days and also attempting the exercises to strengthen my skills.

In the first sentence " They were feeling very sorry themselves" will it be OK to interpret as follows

When we write 'They themselves were feeling  very sorry" or "They were feeling very sorry themselves" the emphasis is on pointing out that they felt sorry about something which they had done to someone else:

on the other hand if we change the sentence to " They were feeling very sorry for themselves" we mean they were regretting something which happened to them.

In the exercise the sentence "They were feeling very sorry themselves" is taken as incorrect because themselves is not necessary since somebody else cannot do the act of feeling.

Please help me with my understanding.

Thanks

Hello veeraraghavan,

I think it is better not to over-analyse one example, as trying to draw more general rules from one example can lead to more errors.  As you say, to express regret or feelings of misfortune we use a reflexive pronoun with the preposition 'for'; in this example 'for' is missing, and that is why the second is the correct sentence.  Rather than trying to find a rule based on the meaning of the verb, I would recommend that you focus on pattern as identified here: reflexive pronouns used as the object of a preposition when the object refers to the subject of the clause.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you,

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I would like to know why "yourself", in the sentence "Would you like to help yourself to another drink?", is considered to be a direct object but in the sentence "Would you like to pour yourself a drink" it is an indirect object?

Thanks

Hello miriam_waltrick,

Both of these sentences contain reflexive pronouns but, as you say, only one is the direct object of the verb.  We can see this if we ask about the action of the verb:

Would you like to pour yourself a drink?

What is being poured?  >  Answer: the drink (not 'yourself')

 

Would you like to help yourself to another drink?

What is being helped?  >  Answer: yourself

 

If we rephrase the first sentence the role of 'yourself' becomes clearer:

'Would you like to pour a drink (direct object) for yourself?'

The second sentence does not allow such reformulation.

 

I hope that clarifies it for you.  Thank you for an interesting question.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, and thank you very much for have answered my question. Now, I know why I couldn`t understand the difference between the 2 sentences: in my language (Portuguese) there`s no indirect object without preposition (all indirect objects "must" have prepositions). But in English, when there is no preposition, we just need to ask about the action of the verb to find out who will get the benefit of it, right?. Ok, I really need to stop making comparisons between the 2 languages and study the English grammar for itself. :-)

Best wishes!
 

Hello miriam_waltrick,

You are welcome!  I don't think translating from one language to another is especially helpful as it can lead to mistakes where the two languages function differently, but I think it can be useful sometimes to compare languages - for example, you have identified some differences between Portuguese and English which will help you to avoid making certain mistakes in future.  Knowing the differences can be a great help!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I never seen such good site before. I like it very much and study here almost everyday. My dream is to  be English teacher  at school.  When there will be mistakes  in  my sentences, please  write about them. 

Hi Lanapon,

Thanks for telling us how much you like LearnEnglish - we work hard and so it's very satisfying to hear that people appreciate it!

Unfortunately, our team is simply too small for us to be able to correct every error our users make, but you can ask us about specific sentences from time to time, and I will point out two for you now:

1) you should use the indefinite article a/an before professions: my dream is to be an English teacher at school

2) in dependent clauses beginning with when, the present simple tense is usually used to refer to the future: where there are mistakes in my sentences...

We wish you the best and sincerely hope you can fulfill your dream!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

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."

Hi,

Why can't we use "They were feeling very sorry themselves." for emphasis just like the previous example, "I baked the bread myself." ?

Thanks.

Hi ahlong,

The example was actually designed to test one of the points in the description:

- as the object of a preposition when the object refers to the subject of the clause

He was feeling very sorry for himself

However, you are correct that, in certain contexts, we could use the reflexive pronoun in this way for emphasis - well spotted!

I will forward your point on to the editors so we can make the example less ambiguous.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to be an English teacher to speakers of other languages.

Please, could you inform me on any quality school in The UK?

Please can you inform me on when to use would and could?

 

Etinosa

Hello etinosa,

Thank you for your question.  I think the best place for you to look for advice on becoming a language teacher is our sister site, TeachingEnglish (click).  There you'll find information on teacher training, teacher development, teaching materials and resources and many other things.

Your question about 'would' and 'could' is quite general.  Both of these words have several different meanings so it's hard for me to say when each should be used.  A good starting point would be to look at modal verbs (click) as both 'would' and 'could' are examples of modals.  Then, if you have any specific questions about how they are used, you can post them and we will answer them for you.

Good luck with your learning and your ambition to become a language teacher!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

i can't see the Activities....in my laptop there is blank, just green square. help me pleace, why the Activities doesn't work?

Hello varaeztrella,

I’m sorry you’re having problems with the exercises. I’ll try to help you, but I’ll need a little more information, so I have a few questions for you:

- Do the exercises work on any pages, or are they all the same?

- Can you see videos and games on the site?  Can you see videos on other sites, such as YouTube?

- Which browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome etc.) are you using?

- Do you have flash enabled in your browser?  You can visit this page to check if you have Flash Player is installed, and to install it if not.

Once we have this information we’ll look at the pages and see where the problem might be.

Best wishes,

 

 

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team