We use reflexive pronouns when the subject and the object of a sentence are the same. In other words, reflexive pronouns cause the verb to reflect back on the subject.
In the example, “I am teaching myself to play the piano.” “I” is the subject of the sentence. “am teaching” is the verb. But, whom am I teaching? The answer is “myself,” an illustration of a reflexive pronoun at work.
We also can use them to add emphasis to various statements.
- Mary likes looking at herself in the mirror. (‘herself’ refers to Mary, not to anybody else)
- Jack and Evelyn built their house themselves. (we emphasize the fact that nobody helped them)
How to form reflexive pronouns
One of the biggest markers for reflexive pronouns is their ending. They always end in ‘-self‘ or ‘-selves‘ and refer to a previously-mentioned noun or pronoun.
Reflexive pronouns are formed like this:
|Object pronoun||Reflexive pronoun|
- I usually do the cleaning myself.
- Can you repair this chair yourself?
- Jane bought herself a new pair of shoes.
- Jack introduced himself to other people at the meeting.
- This door locks itself after closing.
- We must make important decisions ourselves.
- Be careful, don’t cut yourselves with those knives.
- Old people often talk to themselves.
When to use reflexive pronouns
In many situations we use reflexive pronouns just to emphasize that:
- the subject is acting upon itself instead of acting upon another object, or
- to emphasize the importance of the subject.
Consider the following examples:
- Girls liked them. (they liked someone else)
- Girls liked themselves. (subject acted upon itself)
- I do my laundry myself, and my mother does not help me.
- The movie itself was not very good, but the soundtrack was awesome.
- The Queen herself attended the ceremonial reception.
- We could fix the car ourselves, but Peter decided to take it to the service.
When not to use reflexive pronouns
— We don’t use reflexive pronouns when two or more subjects perform the same reciprocal action. ‘Each other’ is used instead:
- We looked at each other with admiration. (I looked at her, and she looked at me)
- BUT: We looked at ourselves in the mirror. (I looked at myself, and she looked at herself)
- My friends and I are helping each other with the homework.
- Usually cats and dogs don’t like each other.
- Children gave each other apples and ate them with pleasure.
— We don’t use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress or feel:
- He washed [
himself] in cold water.
- He always shaved [
himself] before going out in the evening.
Check out this video from SmartLearningVideos explaining the meaning and usage of reflexive pronouns: