Reflexive pronouns in English (myself, herself…)
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A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that refers to a person already mentioned (the word reflected is used in the sense of reflection, like a mirror, not in the sense of reflecting on something… understood?).
Here is the list of reflexive pronouns:
⚠️oneself is an impersonal form, mostly used in dictionaries.
Here are some verbs frequently used with reflexive pronouns:
- to clean oneself
- to burn oneself
- to cut oneself
- to help oneself
- to talk to oneself
- to wash oneself
- to look at oneself
- to defend oneself
- to dry oneself
- to introduce oneself
- to enjoy oneself
- to see oneself
- to behave oneself
They are always placed after the verb. A few examples:
- Tina was looking at herself in the mirror.
- Be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself.
- The computer turns itself off.
⚠️ Depending on where it is placed, the meaning of the sentence is different:
- He cut himself.
- He cut himself a piece of cake.
- He cut the cake himself.
Reflected pronouns can have an insistence value:
- Do it yourself.
- I’ll open it myself.
⚠️ By + reflexive pronoun reinforces the idea of insistence:
- I was by myself (ou on my own) when it happened.
- Can you manage by yourself?
- He can’t do that by himself.
⚠️ In English, we do not use reflexive pronouns after certain verbs. These are mainly verbs about personal care and movement:
- to worry
- to concentrate
- to dress
- to fight
- to relax
- to shave
- to wake up
- to feel
- to hide
- to get ready
- to get up
- to sit down
- to meet
- to adapt
- to complain
- to remember
- to shower
- to lie down
⚠️ After a preposition of place (on, about, near…), a complementary personal pronoun is used and not a reflexive pronoun:
- I haven’t got any money on
- She put her bag near
⚠️ Reflected pronouns can be used as the object of a preposition:
- He made a cup of coffee just for himself.
- He was talking to himself.
- They had to cook for themselves.
⚠️ Reflected pronouns are used to emphasize the person or thing you are talking about, especially if you are talking about someone known (but it is not mandatory to use a reflected pronoun):
- I met the King himself.
- Madonna herself sang at the festival.
- The President himself announced the news.
⚠️ Sometimes a thoughtful pronoun can be used to say ‘also’:
- Sarah was pretty drunk last night. I was pretty drunk myself.
⚠️ Do not confuse reflexive pronouns with reciprocal pronouns that serve to show a reciprocal relationship (each other and one another)! Each other and one another are interchangeable, although in principle each other is used more commonly than one another.
- We love each other.
- We’ve known each other (= one another) for ten years.