Sometime you come across a situation in which the subject and object of a sentence are the same. Reflexive pronouns are used in such cases to show this relationship and make the sentence simpler.
Good to Know!
The term reflexive comes from the word 'reflect'; this is useful to remember because a reflexive pronoun reflects back upon a sentence’s subject.
You can find a list of these pronouns in the table below.
Good to Know!
In most cases in the English language, the second person singular and plural pronouns look the same. But, in this case, the two are different: 'yourself' is the second person singular and 'yourselves' is the second person plural pronoun.
Let us look at some examples:
‘Myself’ refers to a previously mentioned pronoun, which is ‘I’ here.
‘Themselves’ refers to ‘they’, therefore is a reflexive pronoun.
Reflexive Pronouns Cannot Be Subjects
These pronouns cannot stand as the subject of the sentence. For example, in the sentence 'The mayor himself announced this', the reflexive pronoun ‘himself’ is not the subject of the verb. It is merely used for emphasis and can be removed from the sentence. It is therefore called an emphatic pronoun.
Necessity of Using a Reflexive Pronoun
It is possible to use an object pronoun to show if the subject and object of a sentence are the same, but it is only possible if the subject is first-person (or in some cases second person) singular. Take a look at this example:
In this example, by using an objective pronoun we can make it clear that the subject 'I' and the object are the same person.
But in second and specially third person, using this structure my lead to ambiguity. Look at this example:
In this example, it is impossible to distinguish if the subject ‘He’ and the object ‘him’ are the same person (he may have seen another man in the mirror). In this case it is necessary to use a reflexive pronoun to make it clear.
By using a reflexive pronoun, it is shown that the subject and object of the sentence is definitely the same.
When to Use Reflexive Pronouns
We use reflexive pronouns in a number of ways. Here are some of the usages of these pronouns:
1. When Subject and Object Are the Same
Reflexive pronouns can be both a direct and indirect object. Sometimes, it happens that the subject and the object of a sentence are the same person; at times like this, we use a personal pronoun or a name as the subject, and use the agreeing personal pronoun as the object.
As you can see, the subject and the object both refer to the same person.
When a reflexive pronoun is an indirect object, it demonstrates why or for whom the action is performed. For example:
2. When We Want to Emphasize the Subject or Antecedent in a Sentence
Intensive pronouns (also called emphatic pronouns) are used to show emphasis usually by indicating that the subject did the action alone and without help.
All reflexive pronouns can also be intensive pronouns; the difference is that if you delete an intensive pronoun from a sentence, the sentence would remain complete and meaningful. Therefore, intensive pronouns are not essential to the structure of the sentence.
Here, if you delete ‘himself’ from the sentence, the sentence would remain meaningful and structurally complete, so ‘himself’ is an intensive pronoun.
Here, if you delete ‘herself’ the sentence would become incomplete, so ‘herself’ is a reflexive pronoun here.
Intensive Pronoun Vs. Reflexive Pronoun
It is important to know that intensive pronouns do not take the position of an object in a sentence. They usually come before the verb or at the end of the sentence. Sometimes by changing the position you can change an intensive pronoun to a reflexive pronoun or vice versa. Look at this two sentences:
In this example, ‘himself’ is placed before the verb and is an ‘intensive pronoun’.
In this example, ‘himself’ is placed in the position of an indirect object and is a ‘reflexive pronoun’.
Intensive pronouns can be used with ‘by’ to emphasis on doing something alone. In this case it is not always necessary to use ‘by’, but it can make the meaning clearer and distinguish an intensive pronoun from a reflexive pronoun. Take a look at these examples:
Object Pronoun or Reflexive Pronoun?
After the prepositions of 'for' and 'by' we can use reflexive pronouns, but after prepositions of place we use object pronouns, not reflexives.
3. When We Want to Be Polite
You can use reflexive pronouns to refer to someone politely. In this case, usually ‘yourself’ and ‘yourselves’ are used and other reflexive pronouns are rare.
In this example, ‘yourself’ instead of ‘you’ make the sentence more polite.
4. When We Are Using a Reflexive Verb
Generally, if a verb’s object 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:
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.
Examples of Reflexive Verbs
There are also some verbs that if you use them with reflexive pronouns, their meanings change. Below you can find some of these verbs and their meanings. Notice that while using these verbs you can replace oneself with any reflexive pronoun:
|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|
For these verbs the meaning of the verb without a reflexive object is very different from the meaning here. Let us look at some examples of these verbs:
Impersonal Reflexive Pronoun
In addition to the reflexive pronouns mentioned earlier, there is one more personal pronoun: ‘oneself.’ ‘Oneself’ like ‘one’ does not refer to a specific person, and you can use it in two ways:
- Like other reflexive pronouns, to refer to a previously mentioned noun/pronoun:
- As the object of the sentence when there is no clear subject:
Reflexive Pronoun for the Singular 'They'
In the past, for indefinite singular pronouns, people used the more traditional, more complicated, he or she in place of they. But the singular 'they' has been used for exactly this purpose nowadays. 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 still use the him- or herself. They are all correct.