Reflexive pronouns play an integral role in the English language and are commonly mistaken by even my higher level students. In this blog post, I will deconstruct the usage and significance of these pronouns with interactive exercises to help you practice and remember them!
Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence or clause. They are compound words, typically formed by adding '-self' or '-selves' to personal pronouns such as 'my', 'your', 'her', 'him', 'it', 'us', and 'them'.
The resulting reflexive pronouns are 'myself', 'yourself', 'herself', 'himself', 'itself', 'ourselves', and 'themselves', respectively. There's also 'oneself', which corresponds to the indefinite pronoun 'one'.
Reflexive pronouns perform two main roles: as the direct object when the object is the same as the subject of the verb, and for emphasis.
In the first role, consider the sentence, "I wash myself." Here, 'I' is the subject, 'wash' is the action, and 'myself' is the object of the action - and also the recipient. This self-directed action is the reflexive function of 'myself'.
In the second role, reflexive pronouns can stress or emphasize an action that the subject does. For example, "I will do it myself." In this case, 'myself' doesn't indicate a self-directed action. Instead, it emphasizes that 'I' will personally take on the task. These are also known as 'intensive pronouns'.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Reflexive and intensive pronouns are identical in form, but their roles in sentences differ. Intensive pronouns emphasize the subject but don't play a vital role in conveying the sentence's meaning. You can remove them from the sentence without changing the overall meaning. For instance, in the sentence, "She baked the cake herself", 'herself' is an intensive pronoun emphasizing that 'she' made the cake. But if we remove 'herself', the sentence still makes sense: "She baked the cake."
Mistakes often occur with reflexive pronouns when they're used incorrectly in place of personal pronouns. For example, "John and myself went to the store" is incorrect because 'myself' cannot be a subject. The correct sentence is, "John and I went to the store."
Another common mistake is using reflexive pronouns unnecessarily. For example, "I need you to send the report to myself" is incorrect. Here, 'myself' isn't needed because the action isn't self-directed, nor is there a need for emphasis. The correct sentence is, "I need you to send the report to me."
In some varieties of English, you might hear reflexive pronouns used differently. For instance, "I feel bad for them boys, working themselves to the bone." Here, the reflexive pronoun 'themselves' replaces the usual pronoun 'them' after the preposition 'for'. This usage, while not standard, is common in some dialects.
To master reflexive pronouns, try constructing sentences using each one. Here's a challenge:
1. Use 'herself' in a sentence as a reflexive pronoun.
2. Use 'itself' in a sentence as an intensive pronoun.
3. Write a sentence where 'yourself' is used incorrectly.
Also, check out the interactive exercises at the top of the post, designed to help you consolidate the use of the language!
Reflexive pronouns, a fundamental part of English grammar, add depth and diversity to our language. While they may seem tricky at first, understanding their roles and practicing their usage will soon make them second nature. The key is to remember their reflexive character - they always refer back to the subject - and their use for emphasis. Equipped with this knowledge, you'll find yourself using reflexive pronouns confidently and correctly in no time!
Keep practicing, challenge yourself, and watch as your grasp of English grammar continues to deepen. Happy learning!