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A Guide to Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Reflexive and Intensive PronounsSometimes, it’s all about me. Or you. Or maybe her or him. Heck, it might even be all about it. Regardless of what the subject of a given sentence might be, it’s very likely that you’ll need to refer back to it or that you’ll want to give it a bit of extra attention. After all, it is the subject of its very own sentence. Like any good celebrity, the subject of a sentence is perfectly okay with being talked about. A lot. I don’t exactly know how to put this, but like myself, the subject of a sentence is kind of a big deal.

Think of the subject of a sentence as the star of a show. Sure, there are lots of other important players, but without that lead role, there really isn’t a story to tell or a show to put on. Before we get more into our topic of reflexive and intensive pronouns, here’s a quick reminder about what exactly it means to be the subject of a sentence.

Sentence Subjects: A Quick Refresher

There are two components that make up every complete sentence: the subject and the predicate. The subject is what or whom the sentence is about; that is, the subject is the entity performing the verb. For example:

Stella was the star of the show.

The verb in the above sentence is was. Who was? Stella was! That means Stella is the subject of the sentence (and a star in more than one respect). The rest of the sentence, was the star of the show, is the predicate. That’s right—anything that isn’t the subject is the predicate. Now that we know how to find the subject, let’s go back to our discussion about reflexive and intensive pronouns.

Reflexive Pronouns

You now know how to find the subject of a sentence. But do you know how to refer back to that subject? That’s where reflexive pronouns come in. The purpose of a reflexive pronoun is to refer to the subject of the sentence. Here’s an example of a reflexive pronoun in action:

Stella went to the matinee by herself.

The reflexive pronoun is preceded by the subject. The subject may be the noun (e.g., Stella) or the pronoun representing the noun (e.g., she, meaning Stella). Both the subject and the reflexive pronoun must be included the same clause. Who went to the matinee? Stella, the subject. Whom did she go with? Herself, also the subject. (I told you, this Stella is a star.)

There are only eight reflexive pronouns in the English language: myself, yourself, herself, himself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves. Each of these reflexive pronouns has its own personal pronoun with which it is paired:

















Intensive Pronouns

So far, this has all been fairly straightforward, right? Well, this new bit of information might make things a bit fuzzier: just as there are eight reflexive pronouns, there are only eight intensive pronouns. Now here comes the real plot twist: they are the same eight pronouns. What is the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns if they are literally the same words?

Unlike reflexive pronouns, which are necessary to the sentence, intensive pronouns merely work to give emphasis to the subject or object. An intensive pronoun can be removed without the meaning of the sentence changing. Take a look:

Stella herself had never performed in a matinee.

The emphasis added by an intensive pronoun may serve many different purposes. In the above example, the use of herself could indicate that Stella is being contrasted to another player in the matinee. Perhaps she is going to see a friend perform. Or it could be suggesting that Stella disapproves of matinees. Without any other context for this sentence, it’s difficult to tell what role the emphasis may be playing.

Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns Compared

What happens when we remove the intensive pronoun from the example above?

Stella had never performed in a matinee.

That’s right—it’s still a sentence, and Stella is still the star of the show (though not, unfortunately, of the matinee). But what about removing a reflexive pronoun? Let’s revisit this sentence:

Stella went to the matinee by herself.

Now how about this sentence without the reflexive pronoun?

Stella went to the matinee by.

No matter how much you may or may not like cliff-hangers, you can’t deny that the above example is one incomplete sentence.


Now that you’re an expert on reflexive and intensive pronouns, it’s time to get out there and start talking about yourself. Go on! Tell Stella to get out of here, and become the star of your own sentences!

Image source: Nosnibor137/

Parts of Speech