What Are Intensive Pronouns? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Intensive Pronouns

An intensive pronoun is used to refer back to a noun or pronoun in order to emphasize it. Here is a list of the intensive pronouns:
  • myself
  • yourself
  • herself
  • himself
  • itself
  • ourselves
  • yourselves
  • themselves
These words can be either intensive pronouns or reflexive pronouns. This page is about their use as intensive pronouns.

(NB: Intensive pronouns are also known as emphatic pronouns.)

Using Intensive Pronouns

An intensive pronoun refers back to another noun (or pronoun) in the sentence in order to emphasize it. For example:
  • The mayor himself presented the prize.
  • (The mayor is the noun being emphasized. It is called the antecedent of the intensive pronoun. The antecedent of a pronoun is the thing the pronoun refers to.)
When used for emphasis, words like "myself," "himself," etc. are called intensive pronouns.

intensive pronoun examples

Read more about antecedents.

Examples of Intensive Pronouns

In these next examples, the intensive pronouns are shaded, and the people or things being emphasized (i.e., the antecedent) are in bold.
  • She will paint the fence herself.
  • (The intensive pronoun "herself" emphasizes that "she" will do it. A painter won't paint it. Her friend won't paint it. Her daughter won't paint it. SHE will paint it.)
  • The guides baked these cookies themselves.
  • (The intensive pronoun "themselves" emphasizes that "the guides" baked the cookies, i.e., not their mothers.)
  • I heard his proposal myself.
  • (The intensive pronoun "myself" emphasizes that "I" heard the proposal.)
The antecedents of intensive pronouns are not always people. Look at this example:
  • The mouse opened the packet itself.
You can test if it's an intensive pronoun by removing it and seeing if you get the same effect by emphasizing the thing you're trying to emphasize with your voice (shown here in uppercase).
  • SHE will paint it.
  • I heard the proposal.
  • THE MOUSE opened the packet.

Real-Life Examples of Intensive Pronouns

  • The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but raptors are pretty dang scary.
  • Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears. (Roman Philosopher Marcus Aurelius)
  • Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. ("Weiler's Law" by American writer AH Weiler)
  • A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: "We did it ourselves." (Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu)
  • Whoever conquers a free town and does not demolish it commits a great error and may expect to be ruined himself. (Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli)
  • (The antecedent of an intensive pronoun (or any pronoun for that matter) can be a noun, a pronoun, or - as here - a noun phrase.)

Why Should I Care about Intensive Pronouns?

Here are two good reasons to care about intensive pronouns.

(Reason 1) Use intensive pronouns to emphasize things tidily.

Using an intensive pronoun is far slicker than bolding a word, WRITING IT IN UPPERCASE LETTERS, or underlining it. (These are not good looks!)

When speaking, you can emphasize a word with your voice, so there's an alternative to using an intensive pronoun. When writing, however, that luxury doesn't exist. As the alternatives (bolding, uppercasing, underlining) are usually inappropriate, it's worth learning about intensive pronouns.

Of note, an intensive pronoun can always be removed from a sentence without affecting the sentence's meaning. An intensive pronoun just provides emphasis. But, that's usually an important job. It's often the reason the sentence exists.
  • Tony will mark the papers himself.

(Reason 2) Avoid mistakes with "myself."

The word "myself" is not a posh version of "me."
  • Please email myself or your manager with your availability.
  • (Remember that an intensive pronoun emphasizes a nearby noun or pronoun, i.e., its antecedent. There isn't an antecedent in this example.)
Note: This point is related to reflexive pronouns not intensive pronouns. It is included here for anyone who came looking for guidance on this point and ended up here.

Read more about errors with me and myself.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Me or myself Reflexive pronouns Glossary of grammatical terms