English Grammar Rules
When the Subject and the Object in a sentence refer to the same person or thing we use a Reflexive Pronoun.
It is the only area of English grammar that is reflexive.
If you are using YOU in the plural, the reflexive pronoun is yourselves.
Examples of sentences using reflexive pronouns:
- My daughter likes to dress herself without my help.
- I taught myself to play the guitar.
- My cat always licks itself.
When to use reflexive pronouns
1. When the subject and the object refer to the same person or thing.
- He accidentally cut himself while he was chopping the vegetables.
- She bought a present for herself.
- We helped ourselves to the free drinks at the launch party.
- They injured themselves during the rugby match.
- I enjoyed myself at the concert.
- The dog is scratching itself – it must have fleas!
2. We use them for emphasis.
- The author signed the book for me herself!
- I did it myself.
3. In some cases we use it to have a similar meaning to also.
- Annabelle was pretty happy last night. I was pretty happy myself.
When NOT to use reflexive pronouns
1. There are a number of verbs in English with which we rarely or never use reflexive pronouns (as they are in other languages).
They include: adapt, behave, complain, concentrate, get up, hide, lie down, meet, move, relax, remember, shave, shower, sit down.
2. After a preposition of place or location we use a personal pronoun and not a reflexive pronoun.
- He put the backpack next to him.
Ourselves, Themselves and Each Other
1. We use each other when two or more people or things perform the same action to the other.
- Our neighbors were shouting at each other all night.
- My brothers always compete with each other in sport.
2. Take note of the difference between these two sentences:
- Mark and Sarah killed themselves. (They each committed suicide).
- Mark and Sarah killed each other. (Mark killed Sarah and she killed Mark).
More about Each Other
We use the reciprocal pronoun each other when the action is between two people, and not reflexive.
- They stared into each other's eyes.
- The hate each other.
And to make the contrast clearer:
- Mike and Carol bought each other presents for Christmas
(Mike bought a present for Carol and Carol bought a present for Mike).
is very different to
- Mike and Carol bought themselves presents for Christmas
(Mike bought a present for himself and Carol bought a present for herself).
Reflexive Pronouns with Objects
We use verb + reflexive pronoun + object when we do something for ourselves.
- She cooked herself a quiche.
- We taught ourselves French.
We use verb + object + reflexive pronoun when we want to emphasize that another person did not do the action (or assist).
- I repaired the tire myself.
- They did the homework themselves.
- My brother spoke to his boss himself about a raise.
By + Reflexive Pronouns
We use by + myself/yourself/himself etc when we are alone or not with another person.
- Jacob went to the party by himself.
- Emma was sitting by herself.
Try our game about Reflexive Pronouns vs Object Pronouns.
See our grammar notes about Object Pronouns.
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