Emphatic Pronouns

Emphatic Pronouns

The emphatic pronouns are myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. These words can be either emphatic pronouns or reflexive pronouns. This entry is about their use as emphatic pronouns, i.e., how they are used to emphasise things.

Easy Examples of Emphatic Pronouns

  • Sarah will do itherself.
  • (The emphatic pronoun herself emphasises that Sarah will do it. The waiter won't do it. Her husband won't do it. Her son won't do it. Sarah will do it.)
  • The scouts baked these cakes themselves.
  • (The emphatic pronoun themselves emphasises that the scouts baked the cakes, i.e., not their mothers or the scout leaders.)

Real-Life Examples of Emphatic Pronouns

An emphatic pronoun refers back to a noun (or pronoun) to emphasise it. In each example below, the emphatic pronoun is underlined and the noun (or pronoun) it refers to (called its antecedent) is in bold.
  • The Queen herself attended the party. (The Queen is the noun being emphasised. The Queen is the antecedent of the emphatic pronoun herself.)
  • The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, but raptors are pretty dang scary.
  • Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself. ("Weiler's Law" by American writer AH Weiler)
  • You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself. (American journalist Sam Levenson)

Why Should I Care about Emphatic Pronouns?

There are two good reasons to know about emphatic pronouns.

(Reason 1) Emphasising something (obviously)

Using an emphatic pronoun is far slicker than bolding a word, WRITING IT IN UPPERCASE LETTERS or underlining it. Yuk!

When speaking, you can emphasise a word with your voice, so there is an alternative to using an emphatic pronoun. In writing, however, the alternatives are often unwieldy or ambiguous.

An emphatic pronoun can be removed from a sentence without affecting the sentence's core meaning. In other words, an emphatic pronoun just provides emphasis, but that's a pretty important job. It's often the reason the sentence exists.
  • She will attend the reception drinks herself.

(Reason 2) Avoiding errors with myself, yourself, herself, etc.

The words myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves are not posh versions of me, you, her, him, it, us, you and them.
  • If you have any questions, please contact myself or your line manager. [wrong]
  • (Remember, an emphatic pronoun emphasises a nearby noun or pronoun, i.e., its antecedent. There isn't an antecedent in this example.)
  • If you have any questions, please contact me or your line manager. [correct]
  • (Myself is not a posh version of me.)
This point is covered in more detail in the section on reflexive pronouns.

Key Points

  • Emphatic pronouns emphasise. That itself is a good enough reason to learn about them.
  • Myself is not a highbrow way of saying me.
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