Reflexive pronouns are a type of pronoun that end in -self or -selves. We use them when the subject and object of the sentence are the same. Personally, I think reflexive pronouns are some of the easiest ones to learn!
Learn about the definition and examples of reflexive pronouns as I break it all down for you. I’ll also show you when to use reflexive pronouns in sentences. Once you’ve got a clear understanding, you can answer my worksheet at the end about reflexive pronouns to test your knowledge.
What is a Reflexive Pronoun?
There are so many kinds of pronouns it’s hard to keep track sometimes. The basic definition of a reflexive pronoun is a pronoun used for the object of the verb, referring to the same noun in the original sentence. This antecedent is usually the subject of that verb in English. Sounds hard to understand, but I promise it’s not. Stick with me here.
Reflexive pronouns are words that end in -self and -selves, like intensive pronouns. However, their functions differ. Reflexive pronouns usually act as direct or indirect objects, while intensive pronouns have no specific role in the sentence structure.
For instance, in the sentence, “Candace bought herself a new shelf,” herself acts as a reflexive pronoun. Candace is the subject of the sentence, while bought is the verb. But for whom did she buy the shelf? The reflexive pronoun, herself, is the answer.
In the sentence, “Candace herself bought a new shelf,” herself acts as an intensive pronoun. It emphasizes the subject, Candace, which is me.
Reflexive pronouns are very common in casual conversations. For example, myself works with the personal pronoun I. Ourselves work with we.
Other types of pronouns include personal pronouns, indefinite pronouns, intensive pronouns, relative pronouns, etc.
What are the 10 Examples of Reflexive Pronouns?
Here’s my complete reflexive pronouns list and their corresponding personal pronouns.
- Myself corresponds with I.
- Yourself corresponds with you.
- Yourselves corresponds with you.
- Himself corresponds with he.
- Herself corresponds with she.
- Itself works with it.
- Ourselves works with we.
- Themself works with they (Plural nouns that act as one).
- Themselves works with they.
- Oneself works with one.
Understanding when to use reflexive pronouns will help you produce more accurate sentences. The idea is that we use reflexive pronouns to show that the subject is doing something to itself or by itself. Consider the sentence below:
- The students wrote them.
Instead of using them, the writer should revise the sentence to include a reflexive pronoun. The correct pronoun is themselves because the subject, students, wrote by themselves instead of writing to others.
Reflexive Pronouns as Direct Objects
They’re always the object of a sentence, whether direct or indirect. That means it always appears after the verb in the sentence. I made some examples of sentences with reflexive pronouns that show they are objects.
- Always take care of yourself. (Yourself comes after the verb phrase take care).
- I know myself better than you. (Myself comes after the verb know).
The second sentence is an example of a reflexive pronoun as a direct object. A direct object receives the action of the verb. When we ask, “know who/what?” in the second sentence, the answer is the direct object, myself. Below is another example I whipped up.
- The garbage will not take itself out.
Reflexive Pronouns as Indirect Objects
Indirect objects receive the direct object. In other words, they show why or for whom an action is. Here are examples of sentences with reflexive pronouns as indirect objects.
- Luke got himself a new car. (Himself is an indirect object that receives the direct object, new car).
- You should buy yourself a bigger storage area. (Yourself is an indirect object that receives the direct object, storage area).
Reflexive Pronouns Showing Independent Actions
You can also write sentences with reflexive pronouns beside the word by to show that the subject performed the action alone. Here, the function of the reflexive pronoun is an object of the preposition.
- I went to an unfamiliar city by myself.
- The 2-year-old girl can eat by herself.
Reflexive Pronouns as Intensive Pronouns
Reflexive pronouns emphasize nouns or pronouns when they act as intensive or emphatic pronouns. The pronoun can be removed in the following sentences without changing its meaning.
- I created this painting myself.
- My father himself did not know this hidden talent of my mother.
Reflexive Pronoun for the Singular They
We use themselves as a reflexive pronoun when referring to singular gender-neutral persons or non-binary individuals. For example, instead of saying, “Every parent should rest for herself or himself,” one can say, “Every parent should rest for themselves.”
Themself is also acceptable in some style manuals. It’s used for plural nouns performing an action as one.
Common Errors with Reflexive Pronouns
One of the most common errors with reflexive pronouns is that it is used as a compound subject and object. For example:
- Incorrect: George and myself are going to the mall.
Correct: George and I are going to the mall.
Another error is using reflexive pronouns for activities we usually do alone. For example:
- Incorrect: I bathed myself.
Correct: I bathed.
Why Are Reflexive Pronouns Important?
Reflexive pronouns are essential to keep the sentence less repetitive and more concise. It also prevents confusion for the reader or listener. For instance, “Jane bought herself food.” sounds better than “Jane bought Jane food.”
Reflexive Pronouns Matter
I hope my post has shown you the definition of reflexive pronouns. You’ve also seen my examples of sentences with reflexive pronouns. Remember that reflexive pronouns are used when the sentence’s subject and object are the same.
Remember not to use reflexive pronouns as subjects or parts of compound objects. And don’t use it for actions that we usually do alone.