Reflexive pronouns, or reflexives, are used when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same.
For example, "She took herself to the hospital." In this example, "she" is the subject of the sentence. "Took" is the verb. But, whom did she take? The answer is "herself," a terrific illustration of a reflexive pronoun at work.
As you begin to examine these pronouns, you'll see we use them regularly in everyday speech and in writing. Prepare to explore the world of reflexive pronouns, including 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 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 washed myself clean in the bathtub.
You know yourself better than anyone else.
In the first example, "I" is the subject/noun, "washed" is the verb, and "myself" is the reflexive pronoun, referring back to the noun "I." "Myself" is also the object, answering the verb "washed."
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 strong steel architecture, the building would collapse in on itself.
We thought to ourselves, this has been the best day we have 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 liked them.
They liked themselves.
In the first example, you can't be sure if "them" is referring to some other entity 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 an important part of many languages worldwide. Some students are surprised to learn that, in other languages, there are entire verb categories built around reflexive pronouns.
In these 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.
Reflexive pronouns are common in everyday language. They allow you to point back to other entities in the sentence, usually the subject, with specificity and clarity.
If these words have piqued your interest into the world of pronouns, you should examine other types of pronouns, including personal pronouns, possessive pronouns, and relative pronouns. And, when you're through, test your newfound expertise with this Pronoun Quiz!