English Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns


This module covers the use of reflexive and intensive pronouns. These pronouns include myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves, and are differentiated by whether they added emphasis.

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Typically in a sentence, a subject (S) performs an action (V) to a recipient of the action (O). For example, I (Subject – Personal Pronoun) read (Verb) a book (Object).
When an object is a person, we use object pronouns. For example: I (Subject) see (Verb) him (Object).

When the subject and the object are the same, we need to use reflexive pronouns. For example, looking into a mirror, I would say: I (Subject) see (Verb) myself (Object). In this example, the object and the subject are the same. The object, thus, is reflexive. The sentence “I see me.” is incorrect. If someone else were to look at me, for example: He (Subject) sees (Verb) me (Object), then “me” is correct, as I am the object in this example, but I am not the subject of the sentence, executing the action (to see). If “He” (the subject) is also the object, then the sentence would need to be “He sees himself.”

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When using the indefinite pronoun “one”, the object pronoun is also “one”, and the reflexive pronoun is “oneself”.

I missed the bus this morning, so I drove myself to work.
She is a new teacher, so she introduced herself to the class.
There was no tour guide, so we showed ourselves around.

Reflexive pronouns can also be moved to the end of the sentence, or immediately after the subject pronoun when wanting to put the emphasis back on the subject or the antecedent of the sentence. Even though the pronoun is the same (-self/-selves) it is no longer directly reflexive, as the object of the sentence, but it is intensive. (Intensive pronoun)

She herself did this painting.
There was no tour guide, so we toured the museum ourselves.
She baked the cake herself.

A good way to differentiate between the two is that intensive pronouns can be placed either at the end of the sentence or immediately after the subject pronoun. They are not essential to convey a specific context or meaning in a sentence (“She herself did this painting.” and “She did this painting.” convey the same meaning, namely that she is the person who did the painting. Adding the intensive pronoun merely adds emphasis). A reflexive pronoun is usually placed after the verb and can change the meaning (and integrity) of a sentence entirely. It is essential to a sentence’s meaning and context. When removing a reflexive pronoun from a sentence, the sentence no longer makes sense. For example, “She sees herself.” means, she is looking at a reflection of herself. Removing “herself” from this sentence creates an entirely new sentence with a completely different meaning. “She sees.”, as in she is able to see. It does not specify what it is that she sees.

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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Specific Capabilities at this Level
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.