Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reflexive, emphatic and reciprocal pronouns

A look at myself, yourself, each other etc. A little grammar, some exercises and a bit of a discussion.

Reflexive pronouns are often used where the subject and the object are the same person, or to do with that person. Notice, however, that unlike in some other languages, we don't normally use reflexive nouns with words like wash, dress and shave, unless we want to stress who is doing it:
  • He cut himself while shaving
  • He shaves every morning after his shower.
  • Does he shave himself or does the barber do it?
Note - We often use the verb get with a reflexive meaning for these sort of actions:
  • Go and get washed, then off to bed with you.
  • Haven't you got dressed yet? It's time to leave!
  • He got lost in the forest.
Or sometimes we can use an 'empty' verb with a noun - He had a wash. Note that he dressed for dinner doesn't mean he put some clothes on, but that he changed into formal clothes.
We usually use an object pronoun, not a reflexive, after certain prepositions of place and with when it means 'accompanied by', except where it might not be clear who we are talking about:
  • She took the children with her to work that day.
  • He sat the child down on the sofa beside him.
  • She decided to go easy on herself. (She could go easy on somebody else)

A quick reminder on how reflexive pronouns are formed.

Most reflexives are formed by adding self (singular) or selves (plural) to the possessive determiners my, our, your etc - myself, ourselves etc. But there are two exceptions - himself and themselves, which are based on the object forms of the personal pronouns.

Exercise 1 - Complete the sentences with a reflexive pronoun (myself, herself etc), an object pronoun (me, her etc), or leave the box blank, as appropriate.

1.She taught Javascript from tutorials on the Internet.
2.Remember to take your umbrella with .
3.Haven't you shaved yet? The taxi will be here any minute.
4.Are you going to bath the twins? No, they can bath at their age.
5.I'm going to sit right down and write a letter (song).
6.His problem is that he likes talking about too much.
7.Come on children! Hurry up and dry before you get cold.
8.It's time we gave a really good holiday.
9.He decided to be honest with and face up to the truth.
10.Have you washed behind your ears?
11.You look very pleased with , children! What have you been up to?
12.There's no answer. She can't have her mobile with .

Emphatic use

We can use the same forms,myself etc, as emphasisers. On some traditional grammar websites these are called intensive pronouns. In these examples the sentences would be grammatically correct and make sense without them, but they add emphasis.
  • You need to speak to the manager himself if you want to get anything done.
  • It's best if you do it yourself.
  • I don't see what all the fuss is about, myself.
  • The flat itself is very nice, but I'm not so sure about the neighbourhood.

Reciprocal each other and one another

Notice the difference between themselves and each other / one another:
  • Harry hurt himself.
  • Sammy hurt himself.
  • Harry and Sammy hurt themselves
  • Harry hit Sammy.
  • Sammy hit Harry.
  • Harry and Sammy hit each other / one another.
Each other and one another are used more or less interchangeably. For more information about these see the British Council website linked to below.

Possessives

Reflexive / emphatic pronouns do not have a possessive form. If we want to stress that something belongs to somebody we use own. Reciprocals, on the other hand, do have a possessive form when used as determiners, constructed with 's
  • Do you want to come in our car? - No thanks, I'm taking my own.
  • He bakes all his own bread.
  • The couple looked longingly into each other's eyes.
  • The children often play with one another's toys .

After prepositions

Notice how prepositions are used in these sentences:
  • He made it all by himself.
  • She spends a lot of time by herself.
  • Are you having that cake all to yourself?
  • The house in itself is quite big, but the sitting room is tiny.
  • Let's keep this between ourselves, shall we?
  • They're always arguing among themselves.

Exercise 2 - Complete the sentences with suitable reflexive pronouns or the reciprocal each other. Where there are two boxes together enter a suitable preposition in the first one.

1. He bought her a bread-making machine, but she doesn't see the point in it , as she prefers doing it by hand.
2. We built this house you know, although of course we had a little help from our friends.
3. Poire Belle Hélène! - pears, vanilla ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce. Weren't they just made for ?
4. My advice for interviews - just act naturally and be .
5. He has this huge house all . The Queen wouldn't know what to do with it all.
6. The children do their homework , but of course, they help .
7. She lives in a small flat in Pimlico. She seems to like being on her own.
8. The course isn't too difficult, but the workload is very high.
9. He's just signed on to a course in IT.
10. Hi Mary. This is just so don't tell anyone, but have you heard about Sandy?.
11. I'm not really feeling today, I don't know what it is.
12. They were all talking among instead of listening to the teacher.
13. They were so busy talking to they didn't see the teacher come in.
14. He can get dressed all now. Isn't he a clever little boy?
15. I think the problem with their relationship is that he's a bit too fond of and she's rather too fond of , but I'm not convinced they are particularly fond of .

And now for a little experiment

Exercise 3a - Enter a suitable reflexive pronoun in each box

1.I went through to the kitchen and made a cup of tea.
2.She helped to some more coffee.
3.Who have they invited? - Sally, Harry, Jamie and . I'm really looking forward to it.
4.And here's a picture of Jenny and at the races last June. Do you like my hat?
5.Well I hope you enjoy at the party, Emma.
6.Now children, remember to behave at the Smythe-Simpsons!
7.Where do you see in two year's time, career-wise?
8.As for , I expect to be at least another rung up the ladder.
9.Can you imagine ever doing a job like that?
10.He went to the bar to get a drink.
11.This car was designed with somebody like in mind, Sir.
12.She's decided to treat to a new sports car.
13.I can easily imagine as prime minister, running the country.
14.Come in everyone and make at home.
15.I've just bought a trendy new tablet computer.

Exercise 3b - Now repeat the exercise, but this time if you can leave the gap blank, do so. If not, see if you can use an object pronoun (me, her etc). Only use a reflexive pronoun if it is absolutely necessary.

1.I went through to the kitchen and made a cup of tea.
2.She helped to some more coffee.
3.Who have they invited? - Sally, Harry, Jamie and . I'm really looking forward to it.
4.And here's a picture of Jenny and at the races last June. Do you like my hat?
5.Well I hope you enjoy at the party, Emma.
6.Now children, remember to behave at the Smythe-Simpsons!
7.Where do you see in two year's time, career-wise?
8.As for , I expect to be at least another rung up the ladder.
9.Can you imagine ever doing a job like that?
10.He went to the bar to get a drink.
11.This car was designed with somebody like in mind, Sir.
12.She's decided to treat to a new sports car.
13.I can easily imagine as prime minister, running the country.
14.Come in everyone and make at home.
15.I've just bought a trendy new tablet computer.

Comments

Verbs like treat, enjoy etc

After these verbs the reflexive is necessary. It is also necessary in expressions like Make yourself at home, Help yourself and How do you see yourself in X years time. There's a useful list of verbs like this on the British Council website (link below)
With behave it is not strictly necessary, but is usually used in this context.

Verbs like buy, get, fetch, make etc

Although not necessary, we often use a reflexive after these verbs - I'm going to buy myself an ice-cream.

After as, like, but (for), except (for)

Reflexives are often used instead of object pronouns after these prepositions.

Grammar disputes

1. Myself after and, or etc

We often use myself as the last of a group of people, as in - Sally, Harry, Jamie and myself, or a photo of Jenny and myself. But some people don't like this; for example one person quoted the following sentence to GrammarGirl suggesting it was a misuse of myself
... an e-mail went out from HR like this, “Please contact Squiggly, Aardvark, or myself with questions.”
And GrammarGirl (or rather somebody sitting in for her) agreed that it was incorrect usage. His argument was that if you take all the other people away, you would use me. But as we've seen, just because a reflexive is unneccessary doesn't make it wrong.
And other experts don't necessarily agree. In Practical English Usage, Michael Swan gives this example sentence (as being correct):
There will be four of us at dinner: Robert, Alison, Jenny and myself.
Adding that I or me could also be used. Indeed the editor of the 3rd edition of Fowler's quotes himself as writing:
This booklet results from ... [research] ... undertaken by Professor Donald Donaghue, Mr Anthony Timothy and myself ...
And he says that, as long as myself comes after the other person or people, and not before, it is 'beyond reproach', even when it is the subject (where the purists would no doubt prefer I).
  • Neither Cleo nor myself are naturally pushy. (J. Dankworth)
  • It wasn't that Peter and myself were being singled out. (Fay Weldon)
  • My friends and myself do not find it a great problem
But he draws the line at putting myself first. So:
  • The argument between Dennis and myself. - is perfectly acceptable
  • The argument between myself and Dennis. - is not so acceptable

2. Imagine

I was doing an exercise at Englisch-hilfen, linked to below, and came to the last question, which was:
We can't ................... living without electricity.
The options for the gap were imagine and imagine ourselves. Realising what was probably going to happen I chose imagine ourselves, and of course was marked wrong. Perhaps somebody thinks that as the reflexive is unnecessary, it is incorrect. Poppycock!
I had a quick look round the Internet and find I'm in good company:
I cannot imagine myself running for office
That was said by Condoleeza Rice, who as well as being the ex-Secretary of State of the US, is probably one of the best educated people in America, and currently a professor at Stanford University. And Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary gives this example of usage before an -ing verb
She imagined herself sitting in her favourite armchair back home.
In some instances, as in my example - I can easily imagine myself as prime minister, that reflexive is absolutely necessary. Now I can easily imagine myself becoming prime minister is not that much different. Even if it is not necessary, I would argue that the reflexive adds meaning. It's as though the speaker is thinking of themself as somebody else, looking in from the outside, imagining what that person would do.

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