When it comes to words like themselves, grammar rules are confusing. When do you use words like themselves, himself, herself, myself, etc.? These are called reflexive pronouns. Basically, that just means that the subject is the same as the object. In other words, the person doing the action is the same person that the action is being done to. You’re doing the action to yourself. (Yourself, of course, being another reflexive pronoun.)

Here are a few examples:

  • Mike looked at himself in the mirror.
  • I locked myself out of my car.
  • They love themselves.

Subject Vs Object

One thing to remember when using reflexive pronouns is that they act as an object, not the subject. This is confusing because I said earlier that you use a reflexive pronoun when the subject is the same as the object. So then how can the reflexive pronoun be the object but not the subject? Let me clarify.

In the sentence, “Mike look at himself in the mirror,” Mike and himself are, of course, the same person. But the subject is Mike and the object is the reflexive pronoun himself. Same thing with “I locked myself out of my car.” I and myself refer to the same person, but the reflexive pronoun myself is the object, never the subject.

This is a common mistake. People often say things like this: “Emily and myself are going to start a business.” This is wrong, because you’re trying to use the reflexive pronoun myself as a subject. The proper way to write this sentence would be, “Emily and I are going to start a business.” If you’re not sure whether to use a reflexive pronoun in a given sentence, ask yourself this question: is the reflexive pronoun performing the action (incorrect), or is the action being performed on the reflexive pronoun (correct)?

Using Reflexive Prounouns for Emphasis

Reflexive pronouns can also be used to emphasize the subject. In cases like these, the reflexive pronoun isn’t absolutely necessary, but by referring back to the subject again, you give it more weight. The sentence above, about Mike, is an example of this. I could have simply written, “Mike looked in the mirror.” That’s shorter and simpler, and we still get the idea; we don’t need to state explicitly that he’s looking at himself. (What else do we look at in mirrors?) But by specifying that he’s looking at himself, we give more weight to it. Sometimes this can help make your meaning more clear. In other cases, it just make a sentence unnecessarily complicated. Another example: “She did the job herself.” We could just say, “She did the job.” But by adding the reflexive pronoun herself at the end, we give extra emphasis to the fact that she is doing it. The emphasis is not on the job, but on the person doing it.

If you’re looking for guidance on any more grammar-related issues, check out these articles on contractions grammar and ellipsis grammar. Happy writing!