How To Use Reflexive Pronouns

We use reflexive pronouns (myself / yourself / himself / herself / itself / ourselves / yourselves / themselves) when the subject and the object of a verb are the same.

For example, “She taught herself a few words of French”, or “Do yourself a favour and apply for the job early”.

Read on to find out how they’re used – including a very common spoken English use.

Examples of Reflexive Pronouns In English

1. We use reflexive pronouns with verbs in English – when the subject and object of a verb are the same
Here are some examples:

“We enjoyed ourselves at the party.”

“He hurt himself doing the gardening.”

“Please help yourselves to tea and biscuits.”

“I’d like to introduce myself. I’m …”

look after
“Look after yourselves on holiday!”

2. We also use reflexive pronouns for emphasis
Maybe the situation is different from normal, or we want to show that one person and nobody else did something. For example:

“I want to buy myself a little present.” (I normally buy presents for other people)
“I cleaned the whole house myself.” (Nobody else did it)
“He likes to do everything himself.” (He doesn’t want other people to do things for him)

3. We can combine reflexive pronouns with the noun it refers to
We do this for extra emphasis. For example:

“Well, I myself agree with you.”
You yourself need to decide which university to go to.”
“I met the head of the company himself!”

4. We can also use reflexive pronouns with prepositions

“She went to the party by herself.” (= alone)
“He can work it out for himself.”

Common Errors With Reflexive Pronouns

1. You don’t need reflexive pronouns with some verbs in English
Common errors are with the verbs “concentrate”, “feel”, “meet” and “relax”, where you don’t need a reflexive pronoun.

“I need to concentrate on this report.” (NOT “I need to concentrate myself”)
“She felt sad” (NOT “She felt herself sad”)
“They met for dinner” (NOT “They met themselves for dinner”)
“I want to relax on holiday” (NOT “I want to relax myself”)

2. You don’t need reflexive pronouns with verbs like “shower”, “wash”, etc.
This is because you normally do these activities on your own, and you don’t need to make it clear who does the activity.

“After showering, she got dressed”. (NOT “After showering herself…”)

If, though, you can’t do this activity yourself (because of ill health), you can use a reflexive pronoun to show that the situation is unusual:
“After she fell and broke her arm, she couldn’t wash or dress herself.”

3. Don’t underuse reflexive pronouns
If the subject and object are the same, you’ll probably need them.

“He told himself that he wouldn’t get the job” (NOT “He told he that…)
“I blamed myself for the mistake” (NOT “I blamed me for…”)

4. Don’t confuse reflexive pronouns with reciprocal pronouns
If you do the action to someone else (and not to you), you’ll need a reciprocal pronoun (“each other” / “one another”).

“They helped themselves.” (reflexive)
“They helped each other.” / “They helped one another” (reciprocal – they helped other people)

Get Yourself

In spoken English, we can use “get yourself” + phrase to show that you cause something to happen to you, or you put yourself in a position where something happens to you. Here are some examples:

“He went to a war zone and got himself kidnapped.” (= He was kidnapped because he put himself in a dangerous situation)
“Tragically, an MP got himself killed last week.” (= MPs don’t have enough protection from the public)
“She went swimming in rough seas and got herself into difficulty.” (She wasn’t a strong enough swimmer for the situation)
“I got myself into trouble at school when I hung out with the wrong crowd.” (I made the wrong friends, which caused me problems with the teachers)

More examples:
get over yourself = stop being pretentious
“What do you mean, you refuse to buy from the discount supermarket? Get over yourself!”

get yourself together = live in a healthy or better way / be better organised
“It took her a few months to get herself together after her boyfriend split up with her.”
“When we finally got ourselves together and worked out how to put the tent up, the camping trip was fantastic.”

get yourself a bad reputation / name = gain a bad reputation
“If you don’t honour your promises, you’ll get yourself a bad reputation.”

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