Before I go into detail I should give you the full list. The words ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, himself’, ‘herself’, itself’, ‘oneself’, ‘ourselves’, ‘yourselves’ and ‘themselves’ are both emphasising pronouns and reflexive pronouns.

Although we use the same words for both sets of pronouns, they are used in very different ways. Let us first talk about reflexive pronouns. We use them when the subject and the object in a sentence are the same person or thing. This means that the action is done by the subject and it is received by the object who or what happens to be the same person or thing. Here is an example of what I mean. “I looked at myself in the mirror”. In this sentence the subject is ‘I’ and the object is ‘myself’. This means that the subject and the object are the same person. The action has been done by me and received by me because I am the person that I am looking at.

Here is another example. “The cat washed itself”. We often refer to animals in the third person with the word ‘it’, especially when we don’t know the sex of the animal. In this example the cat is the subject and the word ‘itself‘ is the object. So this means that the cat is doing the action to itself. It does the action and receives it.

The best way to remember when to use a reflexive pronoun is that we always use one when the person or thing is doing the action to themselves. Here are some other examples. “I am talking to myself”: this means I’m not talking to anyone else. “The man hit himself because he was so angry”: he didn’t hit another person, he hit himself. “They laughed at themselves because they knew what they had done was funny”: they are not laughing at the expense of other people.

An emphasising pronoun is used in a different way. We use an emphasising pronoun when we want to emphasis who does the action in a sentence. It is not used when the subject and the object are the same. For example, “I did my homework myself”: in this sentence I am emphasising that I did my homework, not someone else. The pronoun is emphasising because it emphasises who did the action. When pronoun is reflexive it is because the subject and the object are the same, but in this sentence the subject is ‘I‘ and the object is ‘homework‘ therefore it is not reflexive but it is emphasising.

Here are some other examples of emphasising pronouns. “She cleaned her room herself”: this emphasises that she did the action, not someone else. “He painted the picture himself”: this tells us he was the painter, not someone else. “We did the project ourselves”: this shows you that we did it, not someone else.

When we use the word ‘by’ before an emphasising pronoun it emphasises that the doer of the action did it alone without any help. For example, “I translated the text by myself”: this means that nobody else did the translation; I did it alone and didn’t get any help.

Here are some other examples. “You fixed the car by yourself”: this means that nobody helped you to fix the car; you did it alone. “They did their homework by themselves”: this emphasises that they did their homework without getting any help.

Remember that we use a reflexive pronoun when the subject and the object are the same person or thing whereas we use an emphasising pronoun when we want to emphasise who does the action. We use the word ‘by’ before an emphasising pronoun when we want to show that only that person or those people did the action without any help.

G. Harman

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