English grammar

Module 2, Pronouns, Lesson 4:

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

English grammar

Reflexive Pronouns

Definition: Reflexive sounds like reflection, the image in the mirror that bounces back at you. A reflexive pronoun tells us that whoever performs the action in a sentence is also the one on the receiving end of that action. In other words, the reflexive pronoun reflects back to the subject. A reflexive pronoun can be used as the direct object, indirect object, or object of a preposition in a sentence.

Reflexive Pronouns
Singular Plural
myself ourselves
yourself yourselves

The puppy saw itself in the mirror.
Itself is the direct object in the sentence. The pronoun itself refers back to the subject. The puppy saw the puppy in the mirror.

If you're still not sure whom the pronoun is referring to, ask yourself questions to break down the sentence.

Find the subject (doer) and the verb (action): Who saw? The puppy saw.
(The puppy is doing the action.)

Find the object: What did the puppy see? Itself, the puppy.
(The puppy is also receiving the action.)

Know When not to Use Reflexive Pronouns ...

Do not use reflexive pronouns instead of subject or object pronouns.

Error Correction
Mark and myself went to the movies. Mark and I went to the movies.
Our teacher gave Sara and myself an award for the best project. Our teacher gave Sara and me an award for the best project.

...And Recognize the Reflexives That Don't Actually Exist!

There are several nonexistent reflexive pronouns that people commonly use, such as hisself, ourself, theirself, themself, and theirselves. If you use any of these pronouns, here is a simple chart to show you which pronouns to use instead.

Error Correction
hisself himself
ourself ourselves
theirself, theirselves, or themself themselves

Intensive vs. Reflexive Pronouns

Definition: Intensive is like intense. Something intense is very strong. An intensive pronoun emphasizes a preceding noun, which is often (but not always) the noun immediately before the pronoun. Intensive pronouns look exactly the same as reflexive pronouns, but they are only used for emphasis.

The queen herself gave the knight the award.
The queen gave the knight the award herself.

Herself refers to the queen. Using an intensive pronoun tells the reader (or listener) that it's a big deal that the queen gave the award. After all, she's not just anybody—she's the queen!

Because intensive pronouns are used only for emphasis, they can be removed from a sentence without affecting its meaning. The same is not true of reflexive pronouns, which do cause a change in meaning when removed from a sentence. Look at the following comparison to understand the difference.

Reflexive Intensive

The queen bought herself a dog.

The queen bought something for herself. She is both completing and receiving the action in the sentence.

The queen bought the dog herself.

The intensive pronoun herself merely emphasizes the fact that the queen (not someone else) was the one who bought the dog.

Notice how the meaning changes when we remove the reflexive pronoun:

The queen bought herself a dog.

Did the queen buy the dog for herself, or did she buy it for someone else? Without the reflexive pronoun, there's no way to know for sure.

If the intensive pronoun is removed, the meaning doesn't change:

The queen bought the dog herself.

The queen still bought the dog regardless of whether the intensive pronoun is in the sentence or not.

Practice What You've Learned

English grammar
Decide whether the bold-faced pronoun is reflexive or intensive.
I found the treasure box myself.
reflexive / intensive
You yourself should know the rules for pronoun usage.
reflexive / intensive
When Jeremy found his wallet, he bought himself an ice cream.
reflexive / intensive
The mayor himself gave me this award.
reflexive / intensive
My sister bought herself a birthday present.
reflexive / intensive
My neighbors found themselves involved in a lawsuit.
reflexive / intensive
The police officer herself witnessed the accident.
reflexive / intensive
Four students found themselves locked out of the room when they were late to class.
reflexive / intensive
I gave you that worksheet myself so I know you have it.
reflexive / intensive
The television announcer couldn't hear himself speaking, so he spoke louder and louder.
reflexive / intensive