Reflexives!! by Annette Lyon

Thought that maybe if I put lots of exclamation points in the title, that reflexives would sound exciting!

Did it work? 🙂

Lara from Overstuffed brought up a funky English quirk with reflexive pronouns. I tried to dig around and ferret out the reason for the quirk, to no avail. So instead of explaining the history of the quirk, we’ll just discuss it!

Before we get to the quirk:

What the heck are we talking about?

Reflexive pronouns are ones where an action is being performed on the subject by the subject. For example:

Tommy can feed himself now.
While making dinner, Alicia accidentally cut herself with a knife.
They looked at themselves in the mirror.
You can help yourself to a drink.

And so on.

It’s important to use reflexive pronouns when they’re called for. Why? Because without them, you can create sentences that are grammatically correct but totally confusing.

The following sentence is from above but without the reflexive pronoun:

While making dinner, Alicia accidentally cut her with a knife.

See the confusion?

Did Alicia accidentally cut her sister or neighbor or some other female (her) in the kitchen? Or did Alicia cut Alicia? (Did she cut herself?)


They looked at them in the mirror.

We potentially have two groups. The group that is looking and the group that is reflected in the mirror. Or are they the same group? If it’s the same group, a reflexive pronoun takes away the ambiguity:

They looked at themselves in the mirror.

Are we clear on the basics of reflexive pronouns?
(I hope?)

Then let’s talk about the funky quirk!

All reflexive pronouns add “self” or “selves” to the end of another pronoun.

Some tack self/selves to the possessive form:

I / my / myself
we / our / ourselves

But other reflexives take the objective form:

he / him/ himself
(possessive form would be hisself)

their / them/ themselves
(possessive form would be theirselves)

We all know that hisself and theirselves are INCORRECT.

(We all know that, right? Please tell me you aren’t saying theirselves or hisself. My twitching eye thanks you.)

But I’d really like to know the reason behind it. Why do we say myself and ourselves but himself and themselves?

It’s just one more of ten thousand or so ways that English makes no sense whatsoever.

But we love it anyway.


Annette Lyon  is a Whitney Award winner, the recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for fiction, and the author of eight novels, a cookbook, and a grammar guide, plus over a hundred magazine articles. She’s a senior editor at Precision Editing Group and a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English. When she’s not writing, editing, knitting, or eating chocolate, she can be found mothering and avoiding the spots on the kitchen floor. Find her online at and on Twitter: @AnnetteLyon.

Need a little extra grammar help? Get Annette’s grammar book, There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd.

Author: LDS Publisher

I am an anonymous blogger who works in the LDS publishing industry. I blog about topics that help authors seeking publication and about published fiction by LDS authors.