Reflexive Pronouns: Definition, Rules, Sentences, Examples, List


It is often seen that we become afraid of certain grammatical terms. But in reality, when we get to know these terms and understand the definition, we might discover that they are rather quite simple. Reflexive pronouns are much like one of those terms.

In sentences with the same subject and object, reflexive pronouns such as -self or -selves are used. This situation can be either direct or indirect. There are nine reflexive pronouns in English: myself, you, he, she, yourselves, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves.

With so many different types of pronouns, it may become quite confusing as to which one functions as what. That is why in this post, we are going to explain everything about reflexive pronouns and how they function in a sentence.

At first, grammatical terms might seem confusing and arbitrary, but once you understand them, they aren’t. An example would be the term reflexive. Reflection is related to reflexive because reflexive pronouns reflect on the subject of a sentence.

Here, we will be covering the definition, examples, and rules of using reflexive pronouns. 

So what are they?

What are Reflexive Pronouns?

Basically, the reflexive pronouns are the words that end with suffixes like self or –selves. These are usually used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same (e.g., he believes in himself). These pronouns have multiple functions, and they can easily work as either objects or indirect objects.

Reflexive sounds like a reflection in a mirror, where the image is reflected back at you. Reflexive pronouns tell us that the person performing the action in a sentence is also the one receiving the action. As a result, the reflexive pronoun refers back to the subject. You can use a reflexive pronoun as the in a sentence. An object of a preposition can be a direct object, an indirect object, or a prepositional object.

There are nine reflexive pronouns in the English language;

  • Myself
  • Yourself
  • Himself
  • Herself
  • Oneself
  • Itself
  • Ourselves
  • Yourselves
  • Themselves

You also need to keep in mind that in English grammar, the reflexive pronoun would help you to understand and identify the person who is realizing the action of the verb. The interesting part is that the same person will also be the recipient of the action. For many, this might seem quite strange at first glance; however, when you will be studying a few examples of reflexive pronouns along with the list of reflexive pronouns, you will surely be able to understand the concept better. As a matter of fact, you will realize how often you yourself use reflexive pronouns while speaking or writing.

Now, let’s look at some examples of Reflexive Pronouns.

In the following examples of reflexive pronouns, I have italicized the reflexive pronoun in each sentence.

  • He was in a real hurry, so he had washed the car himself.
  • I will have to drive myself to school today.
  • She just wanted to impress him, so she made some cookies herself.
  • John does chores himself because he doesn’t trust others to do them right.
  • That movie is in a class all by itself.
  • You don’t have to go out to dine; you can fix dinner yourselves.
  • He is too young to do it by himself.
  • We, along with the actors, saved the local theatre money by making costumes ourselves.

But apart from all these, the reflexive pronouns have multiple other usages as well. Let’s look at them one by one.

Reflexive Pronouns Are Direct or Indirect Objects

I have mentioned this point before as well. The best part is that these reflexive pronouns can function as a direct object in a sentence while the subject and the direct objects are one and the same. Let’s understand them with a couple of examples.

  • John planned to reward Janice with a dinner out.
  • John planned to reward himself with a dinner out.

Here, you can see that in the first sentence, Janice is the object of reward. John, the subject and also the object of reward in the second sentence; hence, we use the pronoun himself.

But another interesting part is that these reflexive pronouns can also play the indirect object role in a sentence. Let’s look at a few examples about these as well.

  • Jack pours a glass of juice for me every morning.
  • Jack pours a cup of juice for himself every morning.

Here, kindly note that we are referring twice to the same noun as subject and object instead of using a reflexive pronoun for the object. This makes the sentence sound a bit strange. “John decided to cook John a special supper,” for example, can sound very weird to a native English speaker.

Common Errors with Reflexive Pronouns

In certain fields, reflexive pronouns are misused frequently.

Compound subjects or compound objects are most commonly made with incorrect reflexive pronouns.

Just like every other concept of grammar, there are common mistakes for reflexive pronouns in certain sectors. One of the most common mistakes of all is the incorrect use of reflexive pronouns while writing or using compound subjects or compound objects in a sentence.

Let’s look at some examples to understand these errors better. 

  • Jack and myself will conduct today’s meeting.

Here, it is definitely challenging to determine whether “myself” does not belong as part of the compound subject in this sentence. So, if you remove Andrew from the sentence, you need to check if what remains functions correctly or not.

  • Myself will conduct today’s meeting.

Clearly, “myself” does not work in this sentence, but the subject pronoun “I” does.

  • I will conduct today’s meeting.
  • Jack and I will conduct today’s meeting.

Another very common mistake that we often encounter is the improper use of reflexive pronouns as objects. This exists a lot in today’s business world. Like for example,

  • You may submit your expenses to Mr. Jones or myself before Friday.

In this English sentence, the subject is you, and other indirect objects are Mr. Jones and the speaker. So, if you take Mr. Jones out of the sentence, you will see that the word myself will not work.

  • You may submit your expenses to me before Friday.

Instead, you need to use the pronoun “me” in this sentence. 

  • You may submit your expenses to me before Friday.
  • You may submit your expenses to Mr. Jones or me before Friday.

Reflexive Pronouns as Intensive Pronouns

The intensive pronouns in the English Language are actually reflexive pronouns, and they are used to emphasize the subject or antecedent in a sentence. The sense that they portray is “and not someone else.” It is pretty easy to say when a word ending in -self or -selves is serving the purpose of an intensive pronoun. This is because the sentence where the pronoun is used will not change in meaning significantly if you remove it.

  • John made his supper himself. (No one else did it for him.)
  • I did all the work on Saturday myself. (I didn’t have another worker around that day.)
  • We ourselves were compelled to drive the car back to safety. (Perhaps the driver was indisposed.)

The intensive pronoun is used with a sentence to emphasize the subject or antecedent. It is often used to convey “and not another person.” The sentence it is part of does not change significantly in meaning if you remove the word ending in -self or -selves when it is used as an intensive pronoun. As long as the subject and direct are similar, you can use the intensive pronoun as a reflexive pronoun.

Distinguish between Reflexive Pronoun & Intensive Pronoun

A very intense thing is something that is intense. An intensive pronoun emphasizes a preceding noun, which is usually the one right before it. In the same way, intensive pronouns do not reflect the meaning of the word as they only serve as emphasis.

Due to the fact that intensive pronouns are only used to emphasize, they can be removed without affecting the meaning of a sentence. Reflexive pronouns, however, do change the meaning of sentences when they are removed. Let’s compare the two examples.

  • The king himself gave the knight the award.
  • The king gave the knight the award himself.

Himself refers to the king. Using an intensive pronoun tells the reader that it’s a big deal that he gave the award. After all, he is not just anybody, he is the king.

An indirect object can be a reflexive pronoun if the subject and the direct object are the same.

Reflexive Pronoun for the Singular They

Many other publications, including the American Heritage Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style, have approved the singular they. For indefinite singular pronouns, writers were encouraged to use the more traditional, more complicated he or she instead of they.

Back in the days, writers were more and more encouraged to use more traditional, more complicated use of he or she in place of “they” when it comes to indefinite singular pronouns. However, the use of the singular “they” is mostly used for exactly this purpose for hundreds of years now. Apart from that, the singular “they” has been adopted as a personal gender pronoun for the nonbinary community.

It is hard to believe that the singular they has been used for this purpose for hundreds of years. Not to mention that the singular they has become a gender pronoun for the non binary community.

Although it is still possible to use the awkward him or herself construction, you are not required to do so.

One can definitely use the complicated him- or herself construction, but you can easily refrain from that.

  • One must take a break for himself / herself every now and then.

Reflexive Pronouns to Show Independent Actions

This is another exciting use of reflexive pronouns. One can use them together with the word “by” to mean “alone” or “without any help:” Now, we can look at a few examples to understand them better.

  • I went to the restaurant by myself.
  • The children cleaned up their clothes by themselves.

Reflexive Pronouns Are Objects

Sometimes you may hear reflexive pronouns used differently as objects during informal or colloquial speech. 
For example, someone might say something such as “Please give it to Stephen or myself” or “Split the change between I and ourselves.”

One of the easiest ways to understand a reflexive pronoun is by its ending. You can always see them ending with -self or -selves, which qualifies the previously mentioned noun or pronoun. But another indicative feature is the fact that these pronouns serve as the object of a sentence, and they always come after the verb.

However, even in these informal contexts, we should still ask ourselves whether the use of reflexive pronouns is correct. To determine if this is the case, we must remember that reflexive pronouns should only be used as expressions that refer back to another word, either renaming it or intensifying it.

For example:

  • Jimi Hendrix taught himself to play the guitar.
  • He knows himself better than anyone else.

In the first example, “Jimi” is the subject/noun, “taught” is the verb, and “himself” stands as a reflexive pronoun. It indicates the noun “Jimi.” “Himself” is also the object, answering the verb “taught.”

In the second example, “He” is the subject/noun, “know” is the verb, and “himself”, as you can understand, is the reflexive pronoun. This refers to the noun “He.” “Himself” is also the object, answering the verb “know.”

Reflexive Pronoun: Subject

Pronouns with reflexive meanings can be used as subject pronouns.

You should not use reflexive pronouns in place of the subject pronouns.

There are several types of pronouns in English, including personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite, possessive, and intensive. 

Examples of Reflexive Pronouns

Let’s look at some examples of each reflexive pronoun applied in sample sentences:

  • I talked to myself to calm down.
  • Rather than diagnose yourself when you’re sick, you should consult a doctor.
  • Without a strong steel frame, the structure can collapse in on itself.
  • We thought to ourselves; this year has been the worst year we ever spent together!
  • If she weren’t constantly pushing herself at the gym, she wouldn’t be so fit.
  • Pull yourselves together – The Boss will be arriving any minute!
  • The team managed themselves very well as representatives of the company at the conference.
  • He can manage to do the work all by himself.
  • Rita Ora produced her new music record all by herself.
  • He himself was broken from inside upon hearing the news.

Reflexive Pronouns List

We have already learned all about reflexive pronouns, now to memorize the list of reflexive pronouns, it is tabulated as follows:

MY H2O IO YT

  • MY – Myself, Yourself
  • H2O -Himself, Herself, Oneself
  • IO – Itself, Ourselves
  • YT (YouTube) – Yourselves, Themselves

So, the list of reflexive pronouns became,

  • Myself
  • Yourself
  • Himself
  • Herself
  • Oneself
  • Itself
  • Ourselves
  • Yourselves
  • Themselves

Conclusion

So, there you have it, all the details of reflexive pronouns along with its uses, rules, exceptions, and suitable examples. Should you have any further queries on reflexive pronouns, please feel free to mention them in the comments section below. We will try our best to answer them as soon as we can.

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