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Flex Your Grammar Muscles: An Introduction to Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

When you ask, what is a reflexive pronoun, you end up with an answer that is, quite fittingly, a bit reflexive itself. This part of speech is used to refer back to a previous noun and, in some cases, to add emphasis.This guide will break down what are reflexive pronouns for you, and help you learn through reflexive pronoun examples and a reflexive and intensive pronouns worksheet. Also, you will become a pro when it comes to identifying reflexive and intensive pronouns and their differences.

Let’s start off exploring “What is a reflexive pronoun?” and how you define one.

What is a Reflexive Pronoun & Reflexive Pronoun Examples

It’s easier than it sounds to define reflexive pronoun. Nearly all reflexive pronouns refer back to some antecedent—a word or phrase that is replaced by the pronoun in question. The reflexive pronoun is more transparent about this relationship than some of the other parts of speech: these words cannot stand alone and must be preceded or followed by the word to which they refer to.

Let’s start with a list of reflexive pronoun examples:

 

  • Myself
  • Yourself
  • Himself
  • Herself
  • Itself
  • Oneself
  • Ourselves
  • Yourselves
  • Themselves 

 

As you might notice, each reflexive pronoun corresponds to a subject pronoun: 

  • I → Myself
  • You → Yourself
  • She → Herself 
  •  . . . and so on. 

Because these reflexive pronouns, by nature, must be closely attached to another noun, it makes sense that there is this clear correlation between the groups. A common mistake that is seen when using reflexive pronouns is when someone writes hisself or hiself. Both of these words are grammatically incorrect and should never be used. 

Also, reflexive pronouns can be used as pronouns after prepositions of place. What this means is that the reflexive pronoun definition includes words such as with and by when used to indicate where the subject places their own object near themself. For example:

  • She places the purse by her. 
  • The team brought balls with them.

In both instances, the reflexive pronoun is replaced by both with and by. Here they don’t need to “reflect” back to the subject but rather indicates she places her own purse, and the whole team brought balls with them without the suffix -self or -selves added. 

Think you can define reflexive pronoun? You might want to dig further through this guide to add to what are reflexive pronouns. Don’t worry, you will have time to practice with the reflexive and intensive pronouns worksheet at the end and answer in your own words, what is a reflexive pronoun?

A Reflexive Pronoun Definition: What are Reflexive Pronouns

How do we define reflexive pronoun when we see a reflexive pronoun in the middle of a sentence? There is one dead giveaway that indicates the presence of these particular words: the suffix –self or its plural form –selves.

In many ways, this suffix is crucial to understanding what is a reflexive pronoun and how this grammatical concept works. In most sentences that utilize the reflexive pronoun structure, the subject and object refer to the same person, place, thing, or idea. So if we look at a sentence with the common grammatical structure subject + verb + object, the subject does something to or acts upon the object. But if we’re using reflexive pronouns, the subject and the object are one and the same—so the noun in question acts upon itself somehow.

  • William taught himself to cook.
  • We backed ourselves into a corner.

It is action done upon the self, rather than upon some external being. In the first sentence, William is the person doing the teaching (the verb) and the recipient of that teaching is also William; therefore, we use this grammatical structure to convey the idea that William was not taught to cook by someone else, nor did he teach anyone else to cook.

In the second sentence, the subjects have caused their own entrapment in the corner. The reflexive pronoun examples here are used to indicate that something is the fault of the subjects and no one else; it emphasizes their own culpability. 

Now that we know how to define reflexive pronoun, let’s move on to comparing them to another category of pronoun.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns have another common usage: they can function as intensifiers to add emphasis to a sentence and highlight an aspect of a thought. For this reason, we group reflexive and intensive pronouns together. You can group them together when answering what are reflexive pronouns below. To ensure that you’re using words and other grammar concepts correctly, our grammar checker can go over your writing for mistakes.

Let’s look at a few reflexive pronoun examples of intensifiers.

  • Susan herself presented the award.
  • I’ll do it myself.

The reflexive pronouns clearly still reflect back to their antecedents Susan and I. However, they have a different relationship than other categories do. They don’t serve as a replacement for the noun, but instead emphasize it. So in the first sentence, the phrase “Susan herself” adds weight to the notion that Susan is the person who presented the award. It might imply that her presenting an award is a rarity; perhaps she is someone very important or high-ranking.

Similarly, the second sentence is one that we all have probably heard and used several times before. It emphasizes that the speaker will do the action in question, as opposed to anyone else; it implies that no one else is capable or willing, perhaps, at least in the speaker’s mind.

Another note to add to the reflexive pronoun definition is that you can’t use a reflexive pronoun to emphasize what a subject does or did something habitually. For instance:

  • First, she washed the dog herself, got dressed herself, and finished all of the chores by herself

To say this example is how to define a reflexive pronoun is wrong. You do not need to add herself after every single thing the subject did just to emphasize that whoever she is, she did it on her own. Leaving it as a list and a conjunction works just fine. If you wanted to emphasize that she did all those things by herself, the sentence would look like this:

  • She washed the dog, got dressed, and finished her chores all by herself.  

What are reflexive pronouns used for in this case? They act like a magnifying glass, focusing the thought of the sentence on a particular subject/object and making it clear that the presence of that noun is somehow important. Ask a friend what are reflexive pronouns, the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns and use your newfound knowledge to teach them and get them to define reflexive pronoun. Don’t forget to use the Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns Worksheet too!

But wait…

Can a reflexive pronoun be used in any other contexts than the ones we’ve just looked at? These parts of speech are, occasionally,  used in other contexts—but that doesn’t mean it’s grammatically correct. It all falls under the reflexive pronoun definition. Have you ever heard someone say something like:

  • If you could forward the email to myself, that would be great.

It sounds awkward, but maybe a little familiar, right? A turn of phrase like this, though not unheard of, is grammatically incorrect. When we define reflexive pronoun, the key is its intensifying/emphasizing nature for the subject/object relationship to a previous noun. In the above example, myself does not correspond to the subject of the sentence (you) and does not intensify any other instance of a noun in the sentence. Nor does it fit under the reflexive and intensive pronoun category. Remember this when using common phrases when it comes to the reflexive pronoun definition.

You’re likely to see reflexive pronouns in this way when inexperienced writers are attempting to make their writing sound more professional, formal, or polished. Unfortunately, writing in this style will have the opposite effect and is an incorrect use for reflexive and intensive pronouns. So in the case of the sentence above, myself should be replaced by me.

Now that you can define reflexive pronoun, practice your knowledge with the reflexive and intensive pronouns Worksheet found below. 

Try the reflexive and intensive pronouns worksheet now to see if you can answer what is a reflexive pronoun and answer the questions correctly. Additionally, compare other sources and see if they answer what are reflexive pronouns and see what you’re missing in your reflexive pronoun definition. If you’re trying to write formally, your best bet is to familiarize yourself with MLA format and APA format, the two most commonly used styles for formal writing. You can study up on these, plus more styles, on our site.

Let’s Review: Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns Worksheet

Now that you can answer the question “What is a reflexive pronoun?,” let’s wrap this up with a few reflexive pronoun examples and questions to test your mastery of this concept. Use this Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns Worksheet as many times as you want and see if you’ve discovered anything new about the reflexive pronoun definition. If you want to brush up before testing your relative pronoun skills, this informative reference may help.

Questions 1-2: In the sentences below, assume that the blank is a reflexive pronoun and choose one that fits correctly.

  1. She bought ___ a jacket with her birthday money.
  2. I asked __ what I would have done in that situation.

Question 3: Let’s try this: out of the three sentences below, which one uses reflexive pronouns incorrectly?

  • A. Did the executives give themselves a bonus?
  • B. He packed himself a sandwich for lunch.
  • C. Can I get yourself anything else?

Question 4:

  1. In your own words, what is a reflexive pronoun?
  2. What is the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns?
  3. Create 3 sentences with reflexive pronoun examples:

 

 

 

What did you choose? Here are the answers:

  1. For this instance, you would have wanted herself, reflecting back to she.
  2. This sentence requires myself to indicate that the speaker questioned herself internally.
  3. The third sentence (C.) is the incorrect one because it does not have the correct correlation between the pronoun and the antecedent (they should refer to the same thing).

By this point, you should feel comfortable answering the question “What is a reflexive pronoun?,” as well as using reflexive pronouns in your writing! Use them wisely and look for another reflexive and intensive pronouns worksheet online.


Published March 6th, 2019. Updated April 30th, 2020.

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