Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same.
Take the sentence, "She took herself to the hospital." In this example, "she" is the subject of the sentence. "Took" is the verb. But who did she take? The answer is "herself," a terrific illustration of a reflexive pronoun at work.
As you examine this type of pronoun, you'll see we use them regularly in everyday speech and writing. Below you'll find a list of reflexive pronouns and how and when to use them correctly.
One of the biggest markers for reflexive pronouns is their ending. They always end in -self or -selves and refer back to a previously mentioned noun or pronoun. Another giveaway is the fact that these pronouns serve as the object of a sentence, always coming after the verb.
I taught myself to play the guitar.
You know yourself better than anyone else.
In the first example, "I" is the subject/noun, "taught" is the verb, and "myself" is the reflexive pronoun, referring back to the noun "I." "Myself" is also the object, answering the verb "taught."
In the second example, "You" is the subject/noun, "know" is the verb, and "yourself" is the reflexive pronoun, referring back to the noun "you." "Yourself" is also the object, answering the verb "know."
Now that you understand how they work, here is a list of reflexive pronouns as well as their corresponding personal pronouns:
"Myself" works with "I."
"Yourself" works with the singular form of "you."
"Yourselves" works with the plural form of "you."
"Himself" works with "he."
"Herself" works with "she."
"Itself" works with "it."
"Ourselves" works with "we."
"Themselves" works with "them."
Here are some examples of each reflexive pronoun used in sample sentences:
I whistled to myself to calm down.
Rather than diagnose yourself when you're unwell, you should ask a doctor.
Without a strong steel frame, the building would collapse in on itself.
We thought to ourselves, this has been the best day we ever spent together!
She bought herself a new purse for her new job.
If he wasn't always pushing himself at the gym, he wouldn't be so buff.
Pull yourselves together - Grandma will be arriving any minute!
They managed themselves very well as members of the conference panel.
Sally thought to herself, "This is a very nice day for a picnic!"
I cried myself to sleep last night.
Reflexive pronouns are used to specify that the subject is doing something by or to itself. Instead of acting upon another object, the subject is acting upon itself, either literally or figuratively.
This is especially helpful when using the third-person plural. Consider the following two sentences:
They amused them.
They amused themselves.
In the first example, you can't be sure if "them" is referring to some other things or back to the original "they," the subject/noun of the sentence.
In the second example, you have a better understanding, because you know that whatever or whoever "they" stands for, it is the same as "themselves."
You can use reflexive pronouns together with the word "by" to mean "alone" or "without any help:"
Reflexive pronouns can also be used to add emphasis to a noun or pronoun, and are then known as emphatic or intensive pronouns. When it is emphatic, the pronoun can be removed from the sentence and the sentence will still make sense:
Reflexive pronouns are an important part of many languages. Some students are surprised to learn that, in languages such as Spanish, there are entire verb categories built around reflexive pronouns.
In other languages, the placement and order of reflexive pronouns in relation to other pronouns critically changes the meaning of the sentence. Luckily, the English language is pretty cut and dry - at least in this instance.
There are a few instances where the reflexive pronoun changes a verb's meaning slightly in English, such as "help yourself" which implies "take" rather than "help," or "saw myself" which implies "imagined" rather than "saw." However, these changes are rare.
Reflexive pronouns are common in everyday language. They allow you to point back to, or reflect on, the subject of the sentence with clarity.
If these words have piqued your interest in the world of pronouns, you should examine other kinds of pronouns, including personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, and relative pronouns. And, when you're through, test your newfound expertise with this Pronoun Quiz!