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Reflexive Pronouns

Referring to oneself


 

 

Reflexive vs. Object Pronouns

REFLEXIVE

A reflexive pronoun (ending in -self or -selves)  is used when the subject and the object are the same person.  The reflexive pronoun points back to the subject of the sentence.  Specific verbs use the reflexive pronoun.

SUBJECT IS THE SAME PERSON

I fed myself(singular)

We fed ourselves(plural)

She fed herself(sng.)

He fed himself.  (sng.)   ~He fed hisself.

You fed yourself. (sng.)

You fed yourselves. (pl.)

They fed themselves. (pl.) ~They fed theirselves.

Everyone fed themself¹.  (sng.)

It fed itself(e.g., animal of unknown gender)

OBJECT PRONOUN

A personal pronoun takes the place of an object noun when the subject and object are different persons (or things).                                                                                                                                                

SUBJECT IS A DIFFERENT PERSON

*I fed me(I ate.)

*We fed us.   (We ate.)

She fed her.   (e.g., A mother fed her baby.)

He fed him.  (e.g., A father fed his son.)

*You fed you.   (You ate.)

*You all fed you.   (You all ate.)

They fed them.  (e.g., Two parents fed their kids.)

Everyone fed them. (e.g., One group fed some other people.)

It fed it.   (e.g., animal of unknown gender fed another)

 

*error in usage;  ~nonstandard usage

hisself / theirselves – are dialectal variants; nonstandard

¹themself is an unusual form that occurs after a singular indefinite pronoun (everyone, everybody, each, etc.). Using them is a way of getting around specifying gender (himself, herself) and selves is changed to singular selfEveryone should take care of themself.  (See Carey blog listed in Resources below.)

 

Also see Get Passives.

 

 

 

Reflexive Pronouns

SINGULAR

Imyself

Youyourself

Sheherself  / He himself

It itself / One - oneself 

Everyone herself / himself / themself¹

PLURAL

Weourselves

You (all) – yourselves

They themselves

 

All themselves

 

¹"Singular they" — Increasingly editors of publications are recommending the use of what is called "singular they" in situations where it is impossible or hopelessly awkward to recast (rewrite) the sentence as plural.  Writers use plural form or "singular they" to avoid specifying gender.  (See Singular "they".)

Everyone took his/her coat and left.  [singular] /  Everyone took their coat and left as quickly as they could. [plural] 

Everyone should congratulate himself or herself. / Everyone should congratulate themself for a having done their job so well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pronoun Reference

Myself—All  or Part?

 

 

 

All vs. Part of Self

ALL  

A reflexive pronoun refers to all or the whole (subject) person.  The specifics are not stated.

I hurt myself.

He enjoyed himself at the party.

We marketed ourselves well.

She denied herself any luxuries.

They encouraged themselves.

You washed yourself.

PART

A possessive pronoun and noun is used to refer to a specific part of the (subject) person.

I hurt my foot.

He enjoyed  his time at the party.

We marketed our ideas well.

She denied her desires.

They encouraged their efforts.

You washed your face. (brushed your teeth, shampooed your hair, cut your nails, etc.) 

 

to deny oneself – to decide not to have something that you would like, especially for moral or religious reasons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflexive Pronouns

With verbs and verb phrases

Proud

 

 

 

Reflexive Verbs and Verb Phrases

He believes in himself.

He hurt himself.

He takes care of himself.

She blames herself.

He introduced himself.

She talks to herself.

He cut himself.

He excused himself.

He teaches himself.

She enjoys herself.

They killed themselves.

She tells herself not to worry.

He feels sorry for himself.

He pinched himself.

He works for himself.

She helps herself.

They marketed themselves well.

They wished themselves good luck.

She denied herself any luxuries.

He hates himself for forgetting his keys.

She encouraged herself to keep working.

He is pleased with himself.

He is proud of himself. lightbulbPop-Q Proud

He is comfortable with himself.

 

 

 

 

He made himself a sandwich. (for himself)

He called himself a taxicab. (for himself)

He paid himself a compliment. (to himself)

He caused himself a lot of trouble. (for himself)

He cost himself a lot of money.

He did himself a favor. (for himself)

He wrote himself a note. (to himself)

He sent himself an email. (to himself)

He gave himself a break. (to himself)

He bought himself a new car. (for himself)
 

He allowed himself some extra time.

He asked himself a question.

Reflexive pronouns can be used with dative verbs if the subject (agent) is the same person as the object ("patient"/"theme").   Dative verbs take an indirect object: He gave himself (obj.) a break (indirect obj.); and  may use a preposition: He made a sandwich for himself. / He sent a letter to himself.

Also see Ditransitive Verbs  (dative verbs) 

(Huddleston 17 §3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myself

Emphasizing an Accomplishmentman repairing carwood chopper

 

 

Self Emphasis—Less vs. More

LESS EMPHASIS

Stating an accomplishment without myself/ himself / herself gives less emphasis to the person or persons involved in the accomplishment.  Other people may have helped.

I fixed it.

I chopped it.

I bought my own car. 

I learned to do it. 

I did it.

I am here.

MORE EMPHASIS

A reflexive pronoun can be used after the direct object to indicate accomplishment by one individual.                                                                                     

I fixed it myself. (by myself)

I chopped it myself. (by myself)

I bought it myself. (by myself)

I learned to do it myself. (by myself)

I did it myself. (by myself)

I am by myself(expression – alone)
 

 

Also see Get Passives 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Myself

An Unexpected Reflexive

 

 

 

Standard vs. Override Reflexive

STANDARD PRONOUN

Normally, we use a basic pronoun to take the place of a personal noun.  However, some speakers use a reflexive pronoun where we would expect a basic pronoun to be.  (basic: I, you, me)                                                                                                                    

My friend and I figured out a better way to do this.

I figured out the basic design.

A person such as you would have no trouble using it.

My partner is much smarter than I am / me.

All of these inventions are really just to help me.

They gave an award to my partner and me.

He told everyone that he never expected the Academy of Science to give an award to someone like him.

The photo of me that was taken at the awards ceremony is on my desk.

OVERRIDE REFLEXIVE

"Override" occurs when a speaker uses a reflexive pronoun in place of an accusative pronoun, or along with the pronoun (repeating the personal pronoun). This is informal usage, and is done for emphasis. It usually involves 1st or 2nd person. 

My friend and myself figured out an easier way to do this.

I myself figured out the basic design.

A person such as yourself would have no trouble using it.

My partner is much smarter than myself.

All of these inventions are really just to help myself.

They gave an award to my partner as well as myself.

He told everyone that he never expected the Academy of Science to give an award to someone like himself.

The photo of myself that was taken at the awards ceremony is on my desk.

 

 

"Override reflexives are those that occur in place of a more usual non-reflexive in a restricted range of contexts where there is not a close structural relation between reflexive and antecedent that we find with basic reflexives" There is a good deal of variation among speakers in usage. (See Huddleston 17 §3.1.4 for details)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

A man needs to be comfortable with hisself before he can be comfortable with anyone else.  lightbulbPop-Q Self 

I am proud of him for completing the Hour of Code lesson.
lightbulbPop-Q Proud

 

Everyone should be proud of themself for completing the work.

"singular they"   Everyone took his / her / their coat.

 

They taught theirselves to use computers.

After swimming, I dried me off.

My wife and myself just moved to San Francisco.

Dr. Roberts gave my wife and myself a second chance.

FIX

A man needs to be comfortable with himself before he can be comfortable with anyone else.    (hisself is a dialectal variant; nonstandard)

I am proud of myself for completing the Hour of Code lesson.  ("proud" expresses feeling of one's own success)

I applaud him for completing the Hour of Code lesson.  (admire, praise, commend, respect)

Everyone should be proud of themself for completing the work.

Everyone should be proud of himself / herself for completing the work.

 

They taught themselves to use computers.    (theirselves is not a word.)

After swimming, I dried myself off.  (Use myself, not me, if the subject and object are the same.)

My wife and I just moved to San Francisco.   (Use I, notmyself,  as a subject pronoun.)

Dr. Roberts gave my wife and me a second chance.    (Use me, not myself,  if the subject is different from the object.)

I gave my wife and myself a second chance. 

My wife gave herself and me a second chance.

 

 

Resources

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Carey, Stan. "Reflecting on the reflexive pronoun 'themself'." Sentence First. 29 May 2012, stancarey.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/reflecting-on-the-reflexive-pronoun-themself. Accessed on 7 Aug 2016. </>.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Emphasizing "the self"

 

 

 

Decide on which reflexive pronoun goes with each subject. 

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

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Practice 2

Select the Pronoun

man brushing teeth
 

 

Decide whether to use an object pronoun, a possessive pronoun or a reflexive pronoun.

  1. Select the word from each menu that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button. 

 

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