How to Properly Use English Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns

How to Properly Use English Reflexive Verbs and Pronouns

Whether it's Kendrick Lamar's "I Love Myself", Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself", or even better, Beyoncé's "Me, Myself, and I", the English language tends to swirl around reflexive pronouns from time to time.

Yet, English learners seem to have a hard time understanding how and when some of them are used - so much, in fact, that their communication skills are flawed. Let me give you an example.

If I told you that "I love myself" and my name's Jasmin, would "I love Jasmin" mean the same thing? Hmmm... probably not!

To get this right, we must look at the bigger picture, meaning there's more to reflexive pronouns than just reflexive pronouns.

I'm talking about reflexive verbs. These two go hand-in-hand in the English language. In fact, reflexive verbs are "reflexive" because they require a reflexive pronoun. That's their dictionary definition, at least.

Today, we're going go dig deeper into this subject, learn everything there is to know about reflexive verbs and pronouns, and exactly how and when to properly use them. Sit tight, this'll be fun!

hand out with a crystal ball

The ABCs of English Reflexive Verbs

Right of the bat, this title has nothing to do with the paragraph below but some things in the English language really must come first.

You see, there are two types of verbs in English - transitive and intransitive. By definition, intransitive verbs can stand alone in a sentence while transitive verbs add or require an object afterward.


I'm sitting on a beach. or I'm sitting. (intransitive)
I'm lying in bed. or I'm lying. (intransitive)
He died of a heart attack. or He died. (intransitive)

He bought a new car yesterday. (transitive)
I cut myself while making dinner. (transitive)
I enjoyed the new Black Panther movie. (transitive)

As to how all of this suddenly relates to reflexive pronouns, the answer is: reflexive pronouns can only be used with specific types of verbs, and those verbs are transitive. They can never be used with intransitive verbs, all of which I'll explain in the next segment.

Some common reflexive verbs are: "drive", "help", "introduce", "behave", "convince", etc.

Oh, and... be aware that some verbs in English can be both transitive and intransitive, such as "move", "start" or "turn". We call them ergative but that's beside the point here.

What you need to know about reflexive pronouns is that they can only be used with transitive verbs.

That's your golden ticket to the second part of this article, which will focus on all the different types or reflexive pronouns in English and when you should use them to avoid sounding like a tool.

reflection in a cup of coffee

The ABCs of English Reflexive Pronouns

Depending on who or what is the subject or performs the action in a given sentence, reflexive verbs can use different reflexive pronouns. As an example, the sentence "Jasmin did it himself", "himself" is the reflexive pronoun.

Truth be told, learning the different types of English reflexive pronouns is the easiest bit here. Learning when to use them is trickier. But, first...

Here are all the reflexive pronouns that exist in English:

I - myself
you - yourself
he - himself
she - herself
it - itself

we - ourselves
you - yourselves
them - themselves

Note #1: There's a huge dilemma in the linguist community as to which one is acceptable - "themselves" or "themself". To fast-forward your research, both are acceptable, but "themselves" is more widely used by the natives and you'll never risk sounding weird when using it.

Note #2: There's also the reflexive pronoun "oneself", which gets thrown around a lot these days. I myself am someone who likes to use it very often. "Oneself" is typically used with the subject "one" and is most commonly found in dictionary definitions, e.g. "used to... oneself".

When Should You Use Reflexive Pronouns?

The answer is: in two cases - with prepositions such as "by", "to", "for", etc. (to refer back to the subject) and to emphasize something.

Reflexive pronouns are often used with prepositions rather than alone. Why? It just sounds more natural. However, the overall meaning does get one extra layer when a preposition is added.


I did it myself.
I did it by myself.

In this case, the reflexive pronoun "myself" in the first sentence is used to refer back to the subject or the doer of the action. However, the second example somehow emphasizes that the doer has done something "alone" or "with nobody's help" a bit more than without the preposition.

It just adds more stress and that extra dose of importance which otherwise wouldn't exist in the sentence.

Let's check some more examples:

He painted the car.
He painted the car himself.

They couldn't do it.
They couldn't do it themselves.

Moreover, prepositions used with reflexive pronouns can affect the direction of the action in regards to the subject.

In other words, whether the subject has done something "by themselves", "for themselves" or "to themselves" is all determined by the preposition, which often changes the entire meaning of a sentence.


She did it by herself. (She did it alone).
She did it to herself. (She might've hurt herself).
She did it for herself. (She it to please herself).

Of course, the reflexive pronoun used has to be correct, as well, i.e. you can't say "I did it to himself" as "himself" is the reflexive pronoun of "he" (not "I") and should refer to the subject "he" in the sentence, which isn't the case here.

In a nutshell, you must know the correct personal pronoun that each reflexive pronoun refers in order to know exactly what to say in any given conversation you might have in English.

uncomplicate yourself photos

Conclusion: Do It Yourself

Reflexive verbs are an inevitable part of everyday English. As such, the pronouns they always go side-by-side with are an absolute must to master for any English learner.

Let’s be honest, compared to homophones or idioms, reflexive verbs and pronouns are a piece of cake. Any way you slice it, you’d want to learn this yourself (see what I did there). I guess I'll just leave you to it.

Until next time, happy learning!