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When & How to Use Reflexive Pronouns

Instructor: Lindsey Hays

Lindsey has taught Elementary Education, Spanish immersion, and ESL. She has a MS in Elementary Education with a BA in Spanish.

What kinds of things have you learned to do all by yourself: bake a cake, ride a bike, swim? In this lesson, we'll look at reflexive pronouns and how they help tell what we can do by ourselves. We'll look at the definition of reflexive pronouns, as well as some uses and examples in context.

Doing It By Yourself

When you were two, you probably went through a phase where you wanted to do everything yourself, even if you didn't have the ability to do it yet! You might have wanted to put on your own clothes or brush your own teeth, but you had to have parents to help you. Now that you're grown, you can do a lot of those things yourself, and when you do, you use reflexive pronouns!

In this lesson, we'll look at reflexive pronouns, when we use them, and some examples in context. You'll be surprised to see how many you naturally do in your day as you get ready for school or go to bed at night.

Reflexive Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. Imagine you were giving a report on Dr. Seuss, ''Dr. Seuss wrote lots of books, because Dr. Seuss loved to draw. Dr. Seuss also loved to write. Dr. Seuss created stories that captivated kids.'' That's a lot of ''Dr. Seuss's!'' To make it easier, we can use the pronoun, ''he'' to take its place.

Other common pronouns are:

  • She
  • I/me
  • You
  • It
  • They

Reflexive pronouns are when the person who does an action is the same as the person who receives the action. Remember how we said, when you were little you tried to brush your own teeth but it was difficult. Now you can brush your own teeth, yourself. ''Yourself'' is a reflexive pronoun, since you are the person brushing and receiving the teeth brushing.

He brushes his teeth himself.
Teeth

Examples of pronouns with their reflexive pronoun counterparts:

Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun
I myself
You yourself, yourselves
He himself
She herself
It itself
We ourselves
They themselves

Reflexive pronouns have to be in agreement with the pronouns or nouns to which they are referring. We can't say, ''I will do it herself,'' or ''They will do it ourselves.'' Instead, we have to say, ''I will do it myself,'' or ''They will do it themselves.''

When to Use Reflexive Pronouns

We use reflexive pronouns as objects of the verb. They don't work as subjects of the sentence. We can't say, ''Myself saved a piece of cake.'' Instead we would say, ''I saved a piece of cake for myself.''

We can also use reflexive pronouns to emphasize who was doing the work. We could say, ''He tied his shoes all by himself,'' or ''I, myself, think it would be a good idea.'' In this case, the reflexive pronoun is working as an intensive pronoun. It amplifies the subject. ''The author herself wrote us back.''

Examples

Let' take a look at some reflexive pronouns in context, and analyze why they work for those sentences.

Nico looks at himself in the mirror.
Nico

  • When he was chopping the vegetables, he accidentally cut himself.

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