reflexive pronoun

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns

In English grammar, a reflexive pronoun is a pronoun ending in -self or -selves that's used as an object to refer to a previously named noun or pronoun in a sentence. Also called simply a reflexive.

Reflexive pronouns usually follow verbs or prepositions.

Reflexive pronouns have the same forms as intensive pronounsmyself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, oneself, and themselves.

Unlike intensive pronouns, reflexive pronouns are essential to the meaning of a sentence.

Examples and Observations

Here are a few examples of how famous authors use reflexive pronouns in their writing:

  • "I do the Sunday chores. I stoke the stove. I listen for the runaway toilet. I true up the restless rug. I save the whale. I wind the clock. I talk to myself."
    (E.B. White, Introduction to One Man's Meat. Harper & Row, 1983)
  • "Good breeding consists of concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person."
    (Mark Twain)
  • "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
    (Cyril Connolly
  • "Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves."
    (Rudyard Kipling)
  • "A woman needs to support herself before she asks anyone else to support her."
    (Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom. Random House, 2013
  • "A kleptomaniac is a person who helps himself because he can't help himself."
    (Henry Morgan)
  • "The furnace, whirring and stinking to itself, reminded him pleasantly that snow on the roof reduced the fuel bill."
    (John Updike, "Married Life." The Early Stories: 1953-1975. Random House, 2003)
  • "At night she and her daughter lit the house with candles and kerosene lamps; they warmed themselves and cooked with wood and coal, pumped kitchen water into a dry sink through a pipeline from a well and lived pretty much as though progress was a word that mean walking a little farther on down the road."
    (Toni Morrison, ​Song of Solomon. Alfred Knopf, 1977)

    Hypercorrectness and Reflexive Pronouns

    "The tendency toward hypercorrectness occurs with the reflexives as well as with the personal pronouns. It's quite common to hear the reflexive where the standard rule calls for me, the straight objective case:Note that the antecedent of myself does not appear in either sentence. Another fairly common nonstandard usage occurs when speakers use myself in place of I as part of a compound subject:

    * Ted and myself decided to go out and celebrate.

    These nonstandard ways of using the reflexive are probably related to emphasis as well as to hypercorrection. Somehow the two-syllable myself sounds more emphatic than either me or I."
    (Martha Kolln, Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects, 3rd ed. Allyn and Bacon, 1999)

     "Phrases such as 'he gave it to myself' or 'I saw yourself there' are sheer abominations."
    (Simon Heffer, Strictly English. Random House, 2011)

    1. * Tony cooked dinner for Carmen and myself.
    2. * The boss promised Pam and myself a year-end bonus.​

    The Lighter Side of Reflexive Pronouns

    "Let me tell you a little about myself. It's a reflexive pronoun that means 'me.'"
    (Ally Houston, Edinburgh Festival 2015)

    Pronunciation: ri-FLEX-siv PRO-nown