English grammar – Reflexive & intensive pronouns

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Form

Reflexive and intensive pronouns have the same form.
myself
yourself
himself / herself / itself
ourselves
yourselves (plural)
themselves

Meaning

  1. Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and object are the same.
    • I burnt myself on the stove this morning – correct
      I burnt me on the stove this morning – incorrect
    • You can help yourselves to drinks – correct
      You can help you to drinks – incorrect
    • He blames himself for the accident – correct
      He blames him for the accident – incorrect
  2. Intensive pronouns are used to emphasize the subject, meaning that person or thing and nobody/nothing else.
    • Did someone paint your house?” “No, I painted it myself.”
    • He was planning to ask his assistant to go, but in the end he went himself.
  3. We need a reflexive pronoun for the sentence to make sense, whereas we don’t need an intensive pronoun for the sentence to make sense.

    • Did someone paint your house?” “No, I painted it.” (this makes sense without the intensive pronoun)
    • He blames for the accident. (this doesn’t make sense without the reflexive pronoun)

Additional points

  1. Reflexive pronouns are not used after feel, meet, concentrate and relax, and they are not usually used after wash, shave and dress, unless it is necessary to make it clear who does the action.
    • He cannot relax – correct
      He cannot relax himself – incorrect
    • After I got up, I washed – correct
      After I got up, I washed myself – incorrect
  2. If it is clear that the meaning is reflexive, it is not necessary to use a reflexive pronoun.
    • He gave the present to himincorrect
      He gave the present to himselfcorrect
      We need a reflexive pronoun to clarify who it is for.
    • I took my mother with mecorrect
      I took my mother with myselfincorrect
      The only possible meaning is reflexive so we don’t use a reflexive pronoun.
  3. By + reflexive pronoun is used to mean alone.
    • She likes to go on holiday by herself.
  4. A reflexive possessive pronoun cannot be used. My/your own is used instead.
    • They all did their own work – correct
      They all did themselves work – incorrect


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