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English Grammar: Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

written by: Curt Smothers • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 1/7/2013

Reflexive pronouns in English are formed by adding the suffixes “-self," or “-selves" to object pronouns (my, our, your, it, them, etc.). They are used as objects of a sentence or preposition. Intensive pronouns are formed the same way, but are used differently.

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    How Reflexive Pronouns are Used in a Sentence

    Reflexive pronouns are used as follows:

    A direct object of the sentence: (A direct object receives the action of the verb.)

    We saw ourselves as winners.

    He viewed himself as perfect.

    An indirect object of the sentence: (An indirect object tells to whom or for whom the verb's action is applied.)

    He gave himself too much credit.

    They paid themselves a huge bonus.

    An object of a preposition:

    I sometimes talk to myself.

    The were very ashamed of themselves.

    Note in the above examples the reflexive pronoun has a distinct grammatical function. Note also that the subject of each sentence is always the same person or persons of the reflexive pronoun.

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    How Intensive Pronouns are Used in a Sentence

    “First cousins" of reflexive pronouns, intensive pronouns come in the same form (-self, -selves), but they immediately follow the noun or pronoun. Their purpose is to intensify or stress that noun or pronoun.

    Some examples:

    We ourselves were uncertain.

    I myself was very ashamed.

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    Avoiding Incorrect and "Illiterate" Use of Reflexive Pronouns

    ♦ Incorrect Use

    In informal speech, we often hear the reflexive and intensive pronoun misused. Here are some common errors:

    Incorrect: The manager invited myself and my coworkers to lunch.

    Correct: The manager invited my coworkers and me to lunch.

    Remember that the reflexive pronoun must be the same as the subject of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is “manager."

    ♦ "Illiterate" Use

    The use of incorrect forms of intensive pronouns also occurs in slang or colloquial speech. However, the so-called “illiterate use" of reflexive and intensive pronouns should be always be avoided in formal writing.

    Illiterate forms of the reflexive:

    Incorrect: ourself; correct: ourselves

    Incorrect: hisself; correct: himself

    Incorrect: theirself, themself, theirselves; correct: themselves

    Incorrect: ourself; correct: ourselves

    Note: The only correct forms of reflexive and intensive pronouns are:

    himself, herself, itself, myself, ourselves, themselves, yourself and yourselves

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