Reflexive Pronouns

by Craig Shrives

What Are Reflexive Pronouns? (with Examples)

The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. (These words can be either reflexive pronouns or emphatic pronouns. This page is about their use as reflexive pronouns.)

A reflexive pronoun is used when something does something to itself. For example:
  • John pinched himself.
  • (The reflexive pronoun himself tells us that John did something to John.)
Compare the example above with this:
  • John pinched his sister.
  • (There is no reflexive pronoun in this example. John did something to someone else, not to himself.)

Click on the Two Reflexive Pronouns
(Interactive Game)

Easy Examples of Reflexive Pronouns

Below are some examples of reflexive pronouns. Using a reflexive pronoun means you do not have to repeat the subject (shown here in bold). (Repeating the subject would be clumsy.)
  • Alison still does not trust herself.
  • (Alison does not trust Alison.)
  • The members argued amongst themselves for an hour.
  • (The members argued amongst the members.)
  • We often ask ourselves why we left London.
  • (We often ask us.)
(Note: The subject is known as the antecedent of the reflexive pronoun.)
reflexive pronoun examples

Identifying Reflexive Pronouns

In most sentences, somebody does something to someone else. For example:
  • I like him.
  • He spoke to her.
  • She thumped him.
  • The dog bit her.
However, sometimes people (or things) do things to themselves, and this is when you can use myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves as reflexive pronouns. For example:

  • I like myself. correct tick
  • He spoke to himself. correct tick
  • She thumped herself. correct tick
  • The dog bit itself. correct tick
  • Real-Life Examples of Reflexive Pronouns

    Here are some real examples of reflexive pronouns:
    • I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.
    • We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people. (Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860)
    • If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done. (Peter Ustinov, 1921-2004)
    • If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience. (George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950)
    Note: Sometimes, the subject can be implied. For example:
    • The ability to delude yourself may be an important survival tool. (Jane Wagner)
    • Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think. (Danish physicist Niels Bohr)
    These could also have been written:
    • The ability of you to delude yourself may be an important survival tool.
    • [You should] never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.
    There is one common mistake involving reflexive pronoun and one not-so-common, but bad, one.

    (Mistake 1) Do not use a reflexive pronoun if the subject is not doing something to itself.

    The most common mistake involving reflexive pronouns is using one when the subject of the verb is not doing something to itself. For example:
    • He did it to myself. wrong cross
    These are correct:
    • I did it to myself. correct tick
    • He did it to himself. correct tick
    Most often, writers make this mistake because they think myself sounds more formal than me.
    • He insulted the doctor and myself. wrong cross
    • Please pass any comments to the director or myself. wrong cross
    • (This example has an implied subject. "Please [will you] pass any comments to the director or myself."
      Remember that you cannot be the antecedent of myself. Only I can be the antecedent of myself.)
    Here are better versions:
    • He insulted the doctor and me. correct tick (but a little awkward sounding)
    • Please pass any comments to the director or me. correct tick but a little awkward sounding
    Even though the two examples above are correct, they grate on the ear a little, and this doubtless contributes to writers feeling the urge to replace me with myself. Putting me first takes the edge off that ear-grating.
    • He insulted me and the doctor. correct tick (and nicer on the ear)
    • Please pass any comments to me or the director. correct tick (and nicer on the ear)
    Ironically, lots of people who mistakenly use myself, yourself, etc. do so believing a reflexive pronoun sounds more highbrow than the correct personal pronoun (me, you, etc.). This has given rise to the term "übercorrect" grammar, which includes the use of incorrect terms like "between you and I" and "from my wife and I".

    Here's the bottom line, you can only use the word myself when the subject is I.
    • I hate myself. correct tick
    • I asked myself a question. correct tick
    • I did it myself. correct tick
    • (Here, myself is an emphatic pronoun (i.e., one used for emphasis) and not a reflexive pronoun (i.e., one used to reflect back on the subject), but the "bottom line" rule still applies.)
    Read more about emphatic pronouns.

    (Mistake 2) Don't write hisself.

    Don't write hisself or hiself...ever. The reflexive pronoun for he is himself. There is no such word as hisself or hiself.

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    See Also

    What is an emphatic pronoun? What is an antecedent? Me or myself What are pronouns? The different types of pronouns Demonstrative pronouns Indefinite pronouns Interrogative pronouns Personal pronouns Possessive pronouns Reciprocal pronouns Relative pronouns Glossary of grammatical terms

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