Referencing the Self Using Reflexive Pronouns

Pronouns in the English language help us give names to people, places, or things. However, there are different types of pronouns. The reflexive is one such type, and this guide will focus on that category of English pronouns. You can use this piece as a teaching resource for students, but we will structure it in such a way that students should be able to use it as a standalone companion. The age range here will focus on examples that middle or high school students should be able to grasp easily. Additionally, we will use concrete sentence structures or reflexive pronoun examples in order to help any ESL students in these age groups understand the content fully.

reflexive pronouns

What Are the Inner Workings of Reflexive Pronouns?

In English, examples of reflexive pronouns would be any of them that end in -self for the singular or -selves for the plural. Once you know and understand this simple rule, it should become quite easy to spot reflexive pronoun examples over time. A reflexive pronoun can maintain a function as either an indirect object or a direct one. This is why we make a category for these nouns in order to separate them from other types of pronouns. When you are dealing with the reflexive, the subject and the object of a sentence become the same thing.

It will be helpful to cement this concept in the minds of the students with a few examples. Before we do that, let’s go over the different reflexive pronoun cases that you might encounter in English. Taken in their entirety, they can cover the first, second, and third person. These pronouns include the following words:

  • Myself
  • Yourself
  • Himself
  • Herself
  • Itself
  • Yourself
  • Oneself
  • Themselves
  • Ourselves

When you see any words that are pronouns that end like this, you can be certain that they are reflexive. In the following sections, we’ll see how a reflexive pronoun looks when it is in action as part of a regular sentence.

How Do These Pronouns Reflect?

For students who might still struggle with the idea of reflexive pronoun examples, it may be helpful for the instructor to point out that these pronouns reflect on themselves. Let us start by contrasting these pronouns with other types. We can use slightly different sentence structures to show the ways the pronouns might change here.

First, let us consider a sentence like:

1) David decided to take Emily to a nice dinner out as a reward for her great work.

We don’t know the specific relationship that is between David and Emily, but it is clear that Emily is the object of the sentence here. She is the one receiving the action of the verb, and it is an action that the sentence’s subject, David, is performing for her benefit.

Now, let’s contrast that with a very similar sentence like:

2) David decided to treat himself to a dinner out as a reward for all his great work.

In the second sentence, David becomes both the subject and object. He did his own work, and he felt that he deserved his own reward for it. No one else was going to award anything to him, so he took it upon himself to take himself out to dinner.

We can try another example to show a secondary reason for the importance of the reflexive pronoun. This example may be of particular interest to ESL students, highlighting why we might choose the reflexive instead of repeating the noun in question.

For a sentence such as,

3) Jacob decided to cook Jacob a special meal for this occasion.

We have accomplished the same thing as the example of the reflexive does when we use it. In this sentence, we’ve substituted the usual pronoun in the reflexive for Jacob’s own name. Instead of the reflexive, we use the proper pronoun twice. While this does do the same job as the reflexive, it also adds slight confusion to the sentence.

Theoretically, Jacob could be cooking a nice meal for another person with the same name. Further, if we know that this sentence should denote the reflexive, naming Jacob twice can sound a bit unnatural to a native speaker’s ear.

Common Mistakes in Reflexive Usage

Unfortunately, it can be common for some native and non-native speakers of English to use reflexive pronouns where they are not appropriate. Most commonly, we see this error crop up when writers or speakers try to pair the reflexive with compound subjects or objects. In the previous sections, we did not use compounds to illustrate our reflexive pronoun examples. Let’s try that now in order to show students how they might mess it up.

If we create a sentence like:

1) Kent and myself will facilitate the presentation today.

We’ve now made a mistake with the reflexive. It may not be obvious right away, but there is an easy way to tell. If we take out the other part of the subject and only leave the reflexive, the sentence reads as,

2) Myself will facilitate the presentation today.

This is quite clearly an incorrect way to construct the sentence.

To correct this problem, we simply change the reflexive part of the sentence to the more traditional first-person pronoun of I. Therefore;

3) I will facilitate the presentation today.

This becomes the correct way to structure the sentence. Based on this, we also know that we can insert it into our original sentence that features Kent as part of the compound subject.

The Relationship Between Reflexives and Other Pronouns

Pronoun reflexives are ones that you can tie back to their own basic versions. These would include things like I, he, she, or them. However, there are other types of reflexives, too. Verbs may be one of the most common examples of other parts of speech that can take on the reflexive. In terms of English mechanics, the reflexive verb is something that the subject of the sentence does in which they are also the recipient.

For example, when we write that Angela scrubs herself, the verb here is reflexive. Angela is both the agent performing the action and its recipient.

Conclusion

The above examples should illustrate the most common use cases of reflexive English pronouns. Further, we’ve used some straightforward examples of subjects and objects that take on the reflexive. A good way to remember whether a pronoun is in the reflexive is to ask yourself whether the subject might be talking about or doing something for their own sake. If your answer is yes, chances are that you’ve stumbled upon a reflexive pronoun.

More Pronoun Topics:

  • Pronouns
  • Personal Pronouns
  • Demonstrative Pronouns
  • Interrogative Pronouns
  • Possessive Pronouns