An ELT Glossary : Reflexive pronouns

A reflexive pronoun is one that refers back to another noun, usually the subject of the verb: myself, yourself, himself, herself, oneself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves.  They are therefore unusual in that a different pronoun is used for the second person singular and plural.

Reflexive pronouns can be used in four ways :

1. They can be used as the object of the verb when the subject and object are the same. Eg :

Wendy hates watching herself on video - subject = Wendy; object = Wendy.

Did he hurt himself- subject = he; object = he

The cat was washing itself - subject = the cat; object = the cat

Notice that when the object of the verb is a reflexive pronoun, the passive form is not possible :

 So :  He cut the grass this morning / The grass was cut this morning

 He hurt himself this morning  but not * Himself was hurt this morning

With a few verbs. reflexive pronouns are obligatory - eg:

She prides herself on her knowledge of the history of the area.

Many languages rely on reflexive verbs as in this way  much more than English. For example : French - Je me suis lavé; Italian - Mi sono lavato; German - Ich wusch mich  can all be translated by the English I washed myself. But it would be more natural in English to avoid the reflexive construction and say I got washed

2. Reflexive pronouns can also be used in apposition to  the noun phrase to intensify it.  Consider:

I myself would have acted differently

Here, the reflexive pronoun adds nothing to the sentence - it simply reinforces the subject “I”. It could be replaced with the adverb personally:

I personally would have acted differently.

Another  example :

We ourselves realised it was a mistake.
In these cases, where the noun is the subject, the reflexive pronoun can also be postponed until later in the sentence :
I would have acted differently myself.
We realised it was a mistake ourselves.
This can't happen when the noun is the object of the sentence :

I talked to the boss herself about it  but not  *I talked to the boss about it herself

3. Similar to this emphatic useis the use of reflexive pronouns  to indicate whether anyone else was involved :
He repaired the car himself (ie he didn't take it to a garage)
Did you write this essay yourself? ( implying, Or did someone else write it for you?)
She ate the whole cake herself(ie no-one else had any of it)

4.  Reflexive pronouns also occur in prepositional phrases:
I  live by myself (ie alone)
He cooked dinner for himself (ie no-one else ate with him)
She often talks to herself (ie not to another person)

Related Reading

Parrott, M. Grammar for English Language Teachers, Cambridge

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