What Are Reflexive Pronouns? When and How to Use

Learn what a reflexive pronoun is and how they are used in sentences. Get a clear understanding of the different roles a reflexive pronoun can take along with common errors using reflexive pronouns.

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What Is a Reflexive Pronoun?

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, notice how they are used regularly in everyday speech and writing. Explore a list of reflexive pronouns and how and when to use them correctly.

English Reflexive Pronoun List

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."
  • “Oneself” works with “one”

When to Use Reflexive Pronouns

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."

Reflexive Pronouns Are Objects

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.

For example:

  • 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."

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Reflexive Pronouns as Direct or Indirect Objects

Reflexive pronouns can be both a direct and indirect object. When a reflexive pronoun is the direct object, it’s the same as the subject and receives the action of a transitive verb like:

  • I hurt myself cutting down the bush.
  • We have been preparing ourselves for flu season.

When a reflexive pronoun is an indirect object, it demonstrates why or for whom the action is performed. For example:

  • I bought myself a new car.
  • We will give ourselves a cheat day.

Reflexive Pronouns to Show Independent Actions

You can use reflexive pronouns together with the word "by" to mean "alone" or "without any help:"

  • I went to the movie by myself.
  • The children tidied up their rooms by themselves.

Reflexive Pronouns As Intensive Pronouns

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:

  • I wrote all the songs myself. (I wrote all the songs.)
  • Tom's not lying. Paul himself admitted it to me. (Paul admitted to me.)

Examples of Reflexive Pronouns

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.
  • One should be careful not to cut oneself with the knife.
  • I cried myself to sleep last night.
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Common Reflexive Pronoun Errors

Not all rules for grammar are cut and dried. Therefore, you can get into some sticky situations where reflexive pronouns can be used incorrectly.

Compounds

One common error comes with compound subjects and objects. For example:

  • David and myself will be going to the movies. (incorrect)
  • David and I will be going to the movies. (correct)

If you take David out of the equation, then it will just be “myself will go to the movies”, which is definitely grammatically incorrect. Instead, you’d use “I”.

Let’s check out another example:

  • You can give your essay to Dr. Gall or myself on Friday. (incorrect)
  • You can give your essay to Dr. Gall or me on Friday. (correct)

In this sentence, if you take out “Dr. Gall”, you are left with, “You can give your essay to myself on Friday”. As you can see, “myself” would be incorrect. Instead, you would use “me”.

Common Tasks

Another area to be careful of is using reflexive pronouns for activities that you normally do alone. For example:

  • She washed herself in the water. (incorrect)
  • She washed in the water. (correct)

The exception is when trying to show emphasis like:

  • He bathed himself in spite of his broken hand.
  • Molly was finally old enough to wash her hair herself.

Using Reflexive Pronouns

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!