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How to Teach Reflexive Pronouns (With Examples)

Mastering how to teach reflexive pronouns is crucial for any English educator aiming to enhance their students’ grammatical accuracy and fluency. This foundational concept, which involves pronouns used when the subject and the object of the sentence are the same, is key to forming correct sentences and expressing ideas clearly.

Through clear explanations, practical examples, and engaging classroom activities, teachers can effectively demonstrate the uses and importance of reflexive pronouns. Understanding when and how to use reflexive pronouns enables students to construct sentences more accurately and enhances their overall communication skills in English.

View all of our  Pronoun Worksheets

What are Reflexive Pronouns?

Reflexive pronouns are used in the object position of a sentence when the subject and the object are the same person or thing, indicating that the subject is acting on itself.

For instance, in the sentence “He hurt himself while cooking,” “himself” is a reflexive pronoun demonstrating that the subject (“He”) is also the receiver of the action.

Reflexive pronouns always end in -self for singular forms or -selves for plural forms. Each personal pronoun, including the impersonal pronoun “one,” corresponds to a reflexive form.

Here’s a list of these pronouns for reference:

First Person
Singular I am teaching myself how to play the guitar.
Plural We’ve welcomed ourselves.
Second Person
Singular Treat yourself to a nice dinner after all your hard work this week.
Plural Make sure you pace yourselves during the marathon tomorrow.
Third Person
Masculine Singular John eats by himself sometimes.
Feminine Singular She braids her hair herself.
Neutral / inanimate singular The fire died by itself.
Gender-neutral singular A child should always be given time to enjoy themself during the day.
Plural The cats cleaned themselves after their meal.
Impersonal It’s important to believe in oneself to achieve one’s goals.

Teaching Reflexive Pronouns

A reflexive pronoun is used where an object pronoun is typically expected, specifically when the subject and object of the sentence are the same entity. This helps avoid confusion by clearly indicating that the verb’s action is directed back at the subject.

Example: Object pronoun vs. reflexive pronoun

How to Teach Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns can act as either direct or indirect objects in a sentence:

  • A direct object is directly affected by the action of the verb.
  • An indirect object is the recipient of the direct object.

Example: Reflexive pronouns as direct and indirect objects

How to Teach Reflexive Pronouns

Common mistakes students make when learning Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are often misused in ways that should be avoided in formal writing. The two primary errors include:

  1. Using reflexive pronouns instead of subject or object pronouns.
  2. Incorrectly spelling them, such as using “hisself.”
  • Using reflexive pronouns instead of subject or object pronouns.

Reflexive pronouns, such as “myself,” are often misused in attempts to sound formal in professional settings. It’s important to remember that “myself” is not simply a more formal version of “I” or “me”; it serves a different grammatical function.

Misuse typically occurs in compound subjects or objects, such as “Steven or myself.” Using “myself” in the subject position is always incorrect, and in the object position, it is generally incorrect, though there are rare exceptions, like “I talk to Steven or myself.”

To identify if “myself” is misused, try simplifying the sentence by removing other elements in the subject or object. This helps determine if a subject or object pronoun is needed instead:

How to Teach Reflexive Pronouns

  • Incorrectly spelling them, such as using “hisself.”

Some reflexive pronouns, like “myself,” are created by combining a possessive pronoun with “-self.”

However, a common error arises from assuming all reflexive pronouns are formed this way, leading to incorrect forms such as “hisself,” “theirselves,” and “theirself.”

The correct forms of these pronouns— “himself,” “themselves,” and “themself” — are made using object pronouns, not possessive pronouns.

Themselves and themself

Plural reflexive pronouns typically end in -selves, which complicates using the singular “they.” Traditionally, “themselves” is used for plural subjects, but there’s debate about using “themself” when “they” refers to a single person.

Many style guides now accept the singular “they,” yet the acceptance of “themself” is still evolving. While its usage is growing, not all linguistic authorities consider it standard. For now, “themselves” remains the safer choice, even for singular references.

Example: Themself or themselves

The usage of “Ourself”

“Ourself” is an outdated and seldom-used form of “ourselves,” typically employed when someone speaks about themselves using the plural form.

This usage is most famously known as the royal “we,” often used by monarchs. For instance, a queen might state, “We will seat ourself by the window,” referring only to herself. Except for such specific contexts like this, it’s best to use “ourselves” in modern writing and speech and avoid using “ourself.”

“By” followed by a reflexive pronouns

Using “by” followed by a reflexive pronoun forms a prepositional phrase that means “alone” or “without any assistance.”

Examples: “By” + reflexive pronoun

Reflexive and intensive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns can also function as intensive pronouns when combined with another noun or pronoun to add emphasis to that entity alone. These intensive pronouns can either follow the noun or pronoun they emphasize or be placed elsewhere in the sentence.

Intensive pronouns often imply exclusivity, as in “and nobody/nothing else,” but they can also highlight or distinguish the subject for other reasons.

Examples: Intensive pronouns

Reflexive and reciprocal pronouns

Reciprocal pronouns, “each other” and “one another,” are used to indicate a mutual or shared action among a group of subjects, contrasting with reflexive pronouns that reflect the action back onto the subject itself.

While reflexive pronouns denote an action performed by the subject on themselves, reciprocal pronouns describe actions between group members, where each member is both a doer and a receiver of the action.

Examples: Reflexive vs. reciprocal pronouns

How to Teach Reflexive Pronouns

Exercises for teaching Reflexive Pronouns

Exercise 1: Matching type

Instructions: Match the sentences in Column A with the correct reflexive pronouns in Column B.
Column A Column B
1. Mark cooked this elaborate dinner all by ________. A. herself
2. The children organized the playroom ________. B. myself
3. Jennifer did the artwork ________ without any help. C. themselves
4. You’ll have to do your homework by ________. D. ourselves
5. The CEO announced the news ________. E. himself
6. We saw ________ in the mirror and started laughing. F. yourself
7. The cat can entertain ________ for hours with a ball of yarn. G. ourselves
8. They blamed ________ for the mistake. H. itself
9. She applied the makeup ________ before the party. I. yourselves
10. The team completed the project ________. J. themselves
Answer key (For teachers)
1. E – “Mark cooked this elaborate dinner all by himself.”
2. J – “The children organized the playroom themselves.”
3. A – “Jennifer did the artwork herself without any help.”
4. F – “You’ll have to do your homework by yourself.”
5. E – “The CEO announced the news himself.”
6. G – “We saw ourselves in the mirror and started laughing.”
7. H – “The cat can entertain itself for hours with a ball of yarn.”
8. C – “They blamed themselves for the mistake.”
9. A – “She applied the makeup herself before the party.”
10. J – “The team completed the project themselves.”

Exercise 2: Fill in the blanks

Instructions: Fill in the blanks with the appropriate reflexive pronouns from the options provided: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
1. I prepared the entire meal by __________ because everyone else was late.
2. You really should treat __________ to a day off after all that hard work.
3. He built the model airplane by __________ without any instructions.
4. She painted the portrait by __________, which is quite impressive.
5. The dog entertained __________ by chasing its tail.
6. We need to remind __________ to take breaks during the study session.
7. You all need to pace __________ during the marathon to avoid exhaustion.
8. The artists exhibited their works __________, with no sponsors.
9. The machine turns __________ off automatically after 30 minutes.
10. They organized the charity event __________ without outside help.
Answer key (For teachers)
1. I prepared the entire meal by myself because everyone else was late.
2. You really should treat yourself to a day off after all that hard work.
3. He built the model airplane by himself without any instructions.
4. She painted the portrait by herself, which is quite impressive.
5. The dog entertained itself by chasing its tail.
6. We need to remind ourselves to take breaks during the study session.
7. You all need to pace yourselves during the marathon to avoid exhaustion.
8. The artists exhibited their works themselves, with no sponsors.
9. The machine turns itself off automatically after 30 minutes.
10. They organized the charity event themselves without outside help.

Final Thoughts on How to Teach Reflexive Pronouns to Your Students

Mastering how to teach reflexive pronouns effectively requires clear explanations, practical examples, and engaging activities reinforcing these concepts. By integrating real-life scenarios and interactive exercises into lessons, educators can help students understand the usage of reflexive pronouns, which reflect the action back onto the sentence’s subject.

Mastering reflexive pronouns enhances students’ grammatical precision and communication skills. Ultimately, a solid grasp of reflexive pronouns is crucial for students to construct accurate and clear sentences, boosting their confidence in navigating the complexities of the English language.

Embracing platforms like EnglishLearningByPro, which offers readily available and adaptable materials, allows teachers to personalize their teaching strategies according to each student’s unique needs. The ultimate goal is to empower students to easily master the use of verbs, enhancing their communication skills in the English language.

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John Bart
Author: John Bart

I am the co-owner of englishlearningbypro.com, a community built specifically for English teachers around the world trying to make a living teaching English. I have lived in Brazil for four years and had previously taught private English classes for three years. I am passionate about helping others, and making English teaching and learning easier.

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