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Reflexive Pronouns in English Grammar

Pronouns are small words that can take the place of nouns, noun phrases, and other grammatical forms. Reflexive pronouns are pronouns that end in -self or -selves, function as objects, and refer to a previously named noun or pronoun. Reflexive pronouns are a special kind of pronoun usually used in constructions in which the subject and object are the same. The nine reflexive pronouns, which include the eight personal pronouns and one indefinite pronoun, in English grammar are:

  • myself (first person singular)
  • yourself (second person singular)
  • himself (third person singular masculine)
  • herself (third person singular feminine)
  • itself (third person singular neuter)
  • ourselves (first person plural)
  • yourselves (second person plural)
  • themselves (third person plural)
  • oneself (indefinite)

Reflexive pronouns perform three functions — direct object, indirect object, and prepositional complement — and cannot be removed without rendering a sentence grammatically incorrect.

Reflexive Pronouns as Direct Objects

The first grammatical function performed by the reflexive pronoun is the direct object. Direct objects are words, phrases, and clauses that follow a transitive verb and receive the action of the verb. Reflexive pronouns can appear with most transitive verbs but the most common include the following:

  • amuse
  • blame
  • cut
  • dry
  • enjoy
  • help
  • hurt
  • introduce
  • kill
  • prepare
  • satisfy
  • teach

For example:

  • I hurt myself taking down Christmas decorations.
  • She taught herself to play the piano.
  • Did you cut yourself with the paring knife?
  • My son amused himself with the Sesame Street toys.
  • You must dry yourselves before coming into the house.
  • We have been preparing ourselves for a disaster.

Reflexive Pronouns as Indirect Objects

The second grammatical function performed by the reflexive pronoun is the indirect object. Indirect objects are words, phrases, and clauses that follow a ditransitive verb and indicate to or for whom or what the action of the verb is performed. For example:

  • I bought myself a new sweater.
  • He will give himself a cheat day next week.
  • You should get yourself something to eat.
  • We borrowed ourselves some home repair supplies.
  • The teachers may purchase themselves some new textbooks.
  • She did not steal herself a new car.

Reflexive Pronouns as Prepositional Complements

The third grammatical function performed by the reflexive pronoun is the prepositional complement. Prepositional complements are defined as the word, phrase, or clause that directly follows the preposition and completes the meaning of the prepositional phrase. For example:

  • I mailed the package to myself.
  • Did you give the award to yourself?
  • She bought a new car for herself.
  • He had been thinking about purchasing some real estate for himself.
  • The children take care of themselves.
  • We thought only of ourselves last weekend.

Ending in -self or -selves, reflexive pronouns are pronouns usually used in constructions in which the subject and object are the same. Reflexive pronouns perform three functions within English grammar: direct object, indirect object, and prepositional complement.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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