When the subject and the object of a verb are the same, we use reflexive pronouns. The best way to learn is by using an example sentence:
He took himself to the doctor’s office.
In this example, “he” is the subject of the sentence. “Took” is the verb here. However, who did he accompany to the doctor’s office? The answer is “himself,” which is a fantastic example of a reflexive pronoun in action. As you investigate this category of pronouns, look at how frequently you encounter them in written and spoken communication. Here’s a list of appropriate times to use each reflexive pronoun.
List of English Reflexive Pronouns
Here is a list of reflexive pronouns (right) and the personal pronouns (left) that go with them:
Last night, Nathan shook himself awake.
Since I was in a hurry, I cleaned the house myself right before the guests arrived.
Mom and I made the birthday cake ourselves.
Reflexive Pronouns: When to Use Them?
Only to indicate the subject is acting on or for itself, we use reflexive pronouns. The subject literally or metaphorically is acting upon itself rather than another object. The best way to use a reflexive pronoun is for the object if the verb’s subject and object are identical. If not, don’t use one. It is useful when writing in the plural third person.
An illustration of appropriate usage is the following sentence:
Jack cut himself on the broken glass.
The sentence’s meaning is quite obvious. Jack was working with broken glass. He was unattentive, so he cut himself. However, if the reflexive pronoun were switched out for the typical accusative pronoun “he,” the connotation would change.
An illustration of incorrect usage is the two following sentences:
Jack cut him on the broken glass.
He was cut on the broken glass by Jack.
This changes the whole concept and intention of the sentence. Namely, now the same sentence has a different meaning. Most English speakers would interpret this as Jack cutting someone else, although it would be a completely different circumstance.
You will almost always make the proper decision if you adhere to the guidelines. However, one usage of the reflexive pronoun does not comply with that pattern: It can be used to highlight any noun or pronoun that comes just before it. Here is one example of a reflexive pronoun that is an exception:
And he—he himself—the Grinch carved the roast beast!
This sentence from the cherished children’s book by Dr. Seuss emphasizes the use of the reflexive pronoun How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Because the verb’s object and subject are unmistakably different, we can conclude that this is how it is being used.
The above usage, which includes the reflexive pronoun, suggests something uncommon or noteworthy about the person participating.
Summary: What Is a Reflexive Pronoun?
A reflexive pronoun definition is very simple to remember. It is a pronoun that is preceded by the adverb/adjective or pronoun/noun to which it refers. Reflexive pronouns can be used with a noun or pronoun to emphasize the topic but are not typically used on their own as the subject of a phrase.
Reflexive pronouns in the English language show that the subject of the verb’s action is also the subject of the action’s recipient. The reflexive pronoun examples that follow and the list of reflexive pronouns that follow will help you fully grasp even though this initially seems unusual. You’ll probably find that you frequently employ reflexive pronouns in both your spoken and written language.