Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive Pronouns

The reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. These words can be either reflexive pronouns or emphatic pronouns. This entry is about their use as reflexive pronouns. A reflexive pronoun is used with another noun (or pronoun) to show when people (or things) do things to themselves.

Easy Examples of Reflexive Pronouns

  • I like myself.
  • He spoke to himself.
  • She taught herself.
  • The dog bit itself.
In most sentences, something does something to someone else. Compare the sentences above with these ones, which do not include reflexive pronouns.
  • I like him.
  • He spoke to her.
  • She taught him.
  • The dog bit her.

Real-Life 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 does not trust herself.
  • (Writing "Alison does not trust Alison" would be clumsy.)
  • The members argued amongst themselves for an hour.
  • We often ask ourselves why we left London.
The subject (shown in bold) is known as the antecedent of the reflexive pronoun. Here are real-life examples in well-known quotations:
  • I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation. (Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw)
  • If the world blew itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can't be done. (Actor Peter Ustinov)
It's fairly rare, but sometimes the subject can be implied.
  • The ability to delude yourself may be an important survival tool. (American writer Jane Wagner)
  • (Here's the sentence again with the implied subject included: "The ability [of you] to delude yourself may be an important survival tool.")
  • Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think. (Danish physicist Niels Bohr)
  • (Here it is again with the implied subject included: "[You should] never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.")

    Why Should I Care about Reflexive Pronouns?

    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]
    These are correct:
    • I did it to myself.
    • He did it to himself.
    Most often, writers make this mistake because they think myself sounds more formal than me.
    • He insulted the doctor and myself. [wrong]
    • Please pass any comments to the director or myself. [wrong]
    • (This example has an implied subject. Please [will you] pass any comments to the direct or myself. Remember, 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] but a little awkward sounding
    • Please pass any comments to the director or me. [correct] 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 the me and the doctor. [correct] and nicer on the ear
    • Please pass any comments to me or the director. [correct] 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.
    • I asked myself a question.
    • I did it myself. (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. See the section on emphatic pronouns)
    There is one more mistake involving reflexive pronouns that is noteworthy. Don't write hisself or hiself…ever. The reflexive pronoun for he is himself. There is no such word as hisself or hiself.

    Key Points

    • Myself and yourself are not highbrow alternatives for me and you.
    • Hiself and hisself are not words. Use himself.
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