Caleb S.
Caleb S.

What Are Reflexive Pronouns? List & Examples

14 min read

Published on: Jul 1, 2024

Last updated on: Jul 3, 2024

reflexive pronouns

Imagine you're looking in a mirror. Who do you see? Yourself, right? 

That's exactly how reflexive pronouns work in sentences—they reflect back to the subject just like a mirror does.

Let’s learn how to correctly use them through detailed explanations and practical examples.

Reflexive Pronouns Definition

Reflexive pronouns are pronouns that reflect or refer back to the subject of the sentence. They end in "-self" (singular) or "-selves" (plural) and are used when the subject and object of a verb are the same entity. 

Here’s a simple rule to remember: When the subject of a sentence is also the object—that means they're doing something to themselves—you use a reflexive pronoun. But you don't need one if the subject and object are different.

Reflexive Pronouns Examples 

How to Use Reflexive Pronouns

Knowing how to use reflexive pronouns correctly helps you write clearly and accurately. It lets you show when actions are performed by individuals or groups on themselves. 

Now, let's take a look at the proper usage of reflexive pronouns.

Rules for Using Reflexive Pronouns

  • Singular Reflexive Pronouns: These pronouns are used when one person or thing performs an action on themselves.
  • Examples: 
    • She dressed herself before leaving.
    • He congratulated himself on his achievement.
  • Plural Reflexive Pronouns: These reflexive pronouns indicate that a group of people or things perform an action on themselves collectively.
  • Examples:
    • They organized the event themselves.
    • We cleaned the house ourselves.

Reflexive Pronouns as Direct Object or Indirect Object?

Reflexive pronouns serve as direct objects in sentences, reflecting the action back onto the subject itself. They are used when the subject of a verb is also the object of that verb. This usage emphasizes that the action is performed by the subject on itself.

Example:

  • She dressed herself.

In this sentence, "herself" is the direct object of the verb "dressed," indicating that she performed the action on herself directly.

Position in Sentences

Reflexive pronouns usually come immediately after the subject and before the verb or at the end of a clause.

Example:

  • Correct: We enjoyed ourselves at the party.
  • Incorrect: We enjoyed at the party ourselves.

Intensive Vs Reflexive Pronouns

Understanding the distinction between intensive and reflexive pronouns is crucial for using them appropriately in various contexts within English grammar.

Pronoun Type

Purpose

Example Sentences

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflect back to the subject and are essential to the sentence's meaning.

She dressed herself before the party.

They taught themselves how to ski.

Intensive Pronouns

Emphasize a noun or pronoun and are used for emphasis.

I myself will handle the situation.

She did the work herself.

Common Mistakes with Reflexive Pronouns

Using reflexive pronouns incorrectly can lead to confusion or grammatical errors in your writing. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Incorrect Usage with Non-Reflexive Verbs

Reflexive pronouns should only be used when the subject and object of a verb are the same entity. Avoid using them with verbs that do not indicate an action performed on oneself.

  • Incorrect: He enjoyed the movie by himself.
  • Correct: He enjoyed the movie alone.
  1. Improper Placement in Sentences

Reflexive pronouns should typically follow the subject immediately and precede the verb or appear at the end of a clause. Misplacing them can alter the intended meaning of the sentence.

  • Incorrect: They themselves cleaned the room.
  • Correct: They cleaned the room themselves.
  1. Incorrect Use of Prepositions

Reflexive pronouns should not follow prepositions unless they are part of a reflexive verb construction.

  • Incorrect: She went to the party with herself.
  • Correct: She went to the party by herself.
  1. Using Reflexive Pronouns Instead of Personal Pronouns

Avoid using reflexive subject pronouns in the place of personal pronouns when referring to people or things that are not performing an action on themselves.

  • Incorrect: The company provides services for themselves.
  • Correct: The company provides services for itself.
  1. Confusing Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns reflect back to the subject, while intensive pronouns emphasize a noun or pronoun.

  • Incorrect (Intensive Pronoun): He himself made the decision.
  • Correct (Reflexive Pronoun): He made the decision himself.
  1. Incorrect Use in Compound Subjects

When subjects and object pronouns are joined by "and" referring to different individuals, do not use reflexive pronouns.

Subject:

  • Incorrect: Sarah and myself went to the store.
  • Correct: Sarah and I went to the store.

Object:

  • Incorrect: Please send the email to John and myself.
  • Correct: Please send the email to John and me.

Other Reflexive Pronouns

Understanding various aspects of reflexive pronouns helps clarify their usage and distinctions in English grammar.

Themselves vs. Themself

  • Themselves: Used for plural subjects or objects.
    • Example: The team members helped themselves to the snacks.
  • Themself: Used rarely and typically in singular non-binary or gender-neutral contexts.
    • Example: The individual took care of themself after the accident.

Ourself

  • Ourself: Used in formal or archaic contexts when referring to a collective entity as a single unit.
    • Example: The committee made the decision by ourself.

'By' + Reflexive Pronoun

  • When used with 'by,' reflexive pronouns emphasize individual action or responsibility.
    • Example: She completed the project by herself.

Reflexive vs. Emphatic Pronouns

  • Reflexive Pronouns: Reflect back to the subject and are essential to the sentence's meaning.
    • Example: He dressed himself before leaving.
  • Emphatic Pronouns: Emphasize a noun or pronoun that are not essential to the sentence's meaning.
    • Example: I myself will handle the situation.

Reflexive vs. Reciprocal Pronouns

  • Reflexive Pronouns: Reflect the action back to the subject performing the action on itself.
    • Example: They congratulated themselves on their success.
  • Reciprocal Pronouns: Indicate mutual action between two or more subjects.
    • Example: They hugged each other after the game.

Reflexive Pronouns Exercises

Test your understanding with the help of this reflexive pronouns worksheet:

Part 1: Identify whether each underlined pronoun is reflexive or not. Write "Reflexive" or "Not Reflexive" next to each sentence.

  1. She enjoyed the concert herself.
  2. They fixed the car themselves.
  3. She gave him a gift.
  4. We painted the house last summer ourselves.
  5. They spoke to her about the project.

Part 2: Choose the correct reflexive pronoun from the box to complete each sentence.

(myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves)

  1. She bought a new book for ___________.
  2. They are going to cook dinner ___________.
  3. He challenged ___________ to run faster.
  4. We need to finish the project ___________.
  5. The dog groomed ___________ after playing in the mud.


Answer Key

Part 1: Identification

  1. Reflexive
  2. Reflexive
  3. Not Reflexive
  4. Reflexive
  5. Not Reflexive

Part 2: Fill in the Blank

  1. herself
  2. themselves
  3. himself
  4. ourselves
  5. Itself

All in all, understanding and using reflexive pronouns correctly is an essential aspect of mastering English grammar. 

By practicing the distinctions between different reflexive pronouns, as well as understanding their appropriate contexts, you can enhance the clarity and precision of your communication. 

If you aim for perfect grammar every time, try our grammar checker. But if you want “AI to help me write an essay”, explore MyEssayWriter.ai today!

Continue Learning

If you want to learn more about academic writing, grammar, and related concepts, check out these blogs. 

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Caleb S.

WRITTEN BY

Caleb S. (Mass Literature and Linguistics)

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at MyEssayWriter.ai, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at MyEssayWriter.ai, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

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