Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive Pronouns are used to show that the subject and object of a sentence are exactly the same person or thing or there is a direct connection between them.

"Reflexive Pronouns" in English Grammar

What Are Reflexive Pronouns?

Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and object of a sentence are the same.

The term 'reflexive' is derived from the word 'reflect', which is a helpful reminder that a reflexive pronoun reflects back to the subject of the sentence.

Reflexive Pronouns

You can find a list of reflexive pronouns in the table below:

Singular Plural
First myself ourselves
Second yourself yourselves
Third himself, herself, itself themselves

Now take a look at some examples:

Whenever I fail, I tell myself that I need to get up and start over.

In this sentence, 'myself' refers to a previously mentioned pronoun, which is 'I' .

They were arguing amongst themselves.


While in most cases the second-person singular and plural pronouns have the same form in English (You), this is not the case with reflexive pronouns. Specifically, 'yourself' is the second-person singular reflexive pronoun, while 'yourselves' is the second-person plural reflexive pronoun.

Necessity of Using a Reflexive Pronoun

Using an object pronoun to indicate that the subject and object of a sentence are the same is possible, but only when referring to the first-person singular subject. Take a look at this example:

I saw me in the mirror.

In this example, using an object pronoun can indicate that the subject and the object are the same person.

But in second and specially third person, using this structure may lead to ambiguity. Look at this example:

He saw him in the mirror.

In this example, it is impossible to determine if the subject 'He' and the object 'him' are the same person (he may have seen another man in the mirror).

He saw himself in the mirror.

Here, by using a reflexive pronoun, it is shown that the subject and object of the sentence are definitely the same.


Reflexive pronouns cannot stand as the subject of the sentence.

When to Use Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are used in a number of ways. Here are some of the main usages of these pronouns:

1. When Subject and Object Are the Same

Reflexive pronouns can function as both direct objects and indirect objects in a sentence. When the subject and object of a sentence refer to the same person, we typically use a personal pronoun or name as the subject and a corresponding reflexive pronoun as the object.

I hurt myself with the knife when I was making dinner.

As you can see, the subject and the object both refer to the same person.

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

I bought myself a new car.

This is the same as 'I bought a new car for me.'

Sam makes a cup of coffee for himself every morning.

Or 'Sam makes himself a cup of coffee'.

2. When We Want to Emphasize the Subject or Antecedent in a Sentence

Emphatic pronouns, also known as intensive pronouns, are used to emphasize that the subject performed the action alone and without assistance. All reflexive pronouns can also function as intensive pronouns, the key difference is that the sentence would still be complete and meaningful if the intensive pronoun were removed. Thus, intensive pronouns are not necessary for the structure of the sentence.

I told my son that he has to do his homework himself.

Here, if you delete 'himself' from the sentence, the sentence would remain meaningful and structurally complete, so 'himself' is an intensive pronoun.

She hurt herself.

Here, if you delete 'herself' the sentence would become incomplete, so 'herself' is a reflexive pronoun here.

Using The Reflexive Pronoun 'Himself' as the Object

Emphatic Pronoun Vs. Reflexive Pronoun

It's important to note that emphatic pronouns typically do not occupy the position of an object in a sentence. Instead, they are usually placed before the verb or at the end of the sentence for emphasis. In some cases, changing the position of the pronoun can turn it from an emphatic pronoun to a reflexive pronoun, or vice versa. Look at these two sentences:

He himself bought a present.

In this example, 'himself' is placed before the verb and is an 'emphatic pronoun.'

He bought himself a present.

In this example, 'himself' is placed in the position of an indirect object and is a 'reflexive pronoun.'

Intensive pronouns can follow "by" to emphasize that the action was performed alone. While it is not always necessary to use "by" in such cases, doing so can clarify the intended meaning and differentiate an intensive pronoun from a reflexive pronoun. Take a look at these examples:

Carl wanted to go to the party (by) himself.

Here, it is emphasized that he wanted to go to the party 'on his own.'

I want to finish the race (by) myself!

Or 'I want to finish the race 'on my own.'

Object Pronoun or Reflexive Pronoun?

After the prepositions 'for' and 'by,' reflexive pronouns are used, but after prepositions of place object pronouns are used, not reflexives.

He had a suitcase beside him. (Not beside himself)

As you know, 'beside' is a preposition of place, so we must use an 'object pronoun.'

She had a few friends with her. (Not with herself)

In this example, 'with' is a preposition which cannot be followed by a 'reflexive pronoun.'

3. When We Want to Be Polite

Reflexive pronouns can be used to refer to someone politely. In this case, 'yourself' and 'yourselves' are used frequently but other reflexive pronouns are rare.

I think an educated man like yourself would understand our policy quite well.

In this example, using 'yourself' instead of 'you' makes the sentence more polite.

We welcome gentlemen such as yourselves.

4. When We Are Using a Reflexive Verb

Generally, if the object of a verb is a reflexive pronoun, that verb is called a reflexive verb. To be more specific, the subject and the direct object of reflexive verbs refer to the same person/thing. Look at the following example:

My daughter threw herself on the couch and started playing with her phone.

Here, 'threw' is a reflexive verb since the object and the subject refer to the same person.

Some verbs such as 'perjure' are always reflexive; meaning that they always need a reflexive pronoun as their object.

I couldn't believe it when Richard told me that he had perjured himself.

Examples of Reflexive Verbs

Using reflexive pronouns with certain verbs can change their meanings. Here are some examples of these verbs and their modified meanings. Remember that while using these verbs you can replace 'oneself' with any reflexive pronoun:

Reflexive Verb Meaning
Amuse oneself Do something to pass the time
Apply oneself Work and try hard
Content oneself with Settle down for something less than one’s desire
Behave oneself Act appropriately
Find oneself Learn about and understand oneself
Help oneself (to) Serve food/drink for oneself

The meaning of these verbs is different when used without a reflexive object. Let us look at some examples of these verbs:

The ski lodge was closed, so we had to content ourselves with a warm cup of coffee at home.

In this example, if we omit the reflexive object, it does not mean to settle down anymore.

Please, help yourselves to snacks and drinks

Carol said she needs some time to find herself again.

'Find' does not mean 'to understand' without the reflexive object.

Impersonal Reflexive Pronoun

In addition to the reflexive pronouns mentioned earlier, there is one more reflexive pronoun: 'oneself.' 'Oneself' like 'one' does not refer to a specific person, can be used it in two ways:

  • Like other reflexive pronouns, to refer to a previously mentioned noun/pronoun:

One must be careful not to put oneself in danger.

'Oneself' refers to the previously mentioned 'one.' This sentence is the same as 'you must be careful not to put yourself in danger.'

  • As the object of the sentence when there is no clear subject:

It's important to give oneself some time after an emotional shock.

In this statement, it is not clear who the subject is, so we can use 'oneself' as an object.

Reflexive Pronoun for the Singular 'They'

In the past, people used the more traditional, more complicated, he or she as indefinite singular pronouns. But the singular 'they' can also be used for this purpose. So, when we do not want to mention the gender-specific 'he' or 'she' in our sentence, we can use 'they' and 'themselves' instead. We can also use him- or herself. They are all correct.

Everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves now and again.

Themselves, herself, himself are all alternatives. We can use themselves in order not to mention the gender.

Everyone needs to take responsibility for himself or herself now and again.

Everyone needs to take responsibility for him- or herself now and again.


Reflexive pronouns are used to show the relationship between the subject and the object of the sentences. In English, they are; myself, yourself, himself. herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves.

Reflexive pronouns are the same as emphatic pronouns, but the only difference between them is the necessity of them in a sentence to complete the meaning. As you know intensive pronouns can be omitted from the sentence without changing the meaning. But a reflexive pronoun is necessary to complete the meaning.

functions examples
when subject and object are the same They ordered themselves five cups of coffee.
when we want to emphasize the subject or antecedent in a sentence He himself has to take care of it.
when we want to be polite I need yourself to submit the report.
when we use a reflexive verb Enjoy yourself! Everybody is having fun.


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