Review Reflexive and Intensive Pronouns

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 12006

How are you at working with pronouns yourself? Would you call yourself an expert or would others take that title themselves? Learn the difference between two important pronouns with interactive tests!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Skill Sharpener

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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"I gave myself a haircut, and I think it looks pretty good. I hope it's even in the back." I wrote this sentence myself, and you need to read this lesson yourself to find out what this is all about!

Okay, let's begin by getting things straight, the way we hope the young lady pictured above did with her hair!

Who cut her hair? How do you know? Is there a special word that she uses that "reflects" the action back onto herself? The use of the pronoun "myself" gives clarity to the idea that she did, in fact, cut her own hair.

As the name, "reflexive," implies, reflexive pronouns (those that include –self or -selves) reflect the action back on the subject of the sentence or clause. When a pronoun is reflexive, the noun it replaces — its antecedent — is the subject.

Be wary, because there is another type of pronoun, the intensive pronoun, that looks and acts in quite the same way. What is the difference?

As stated above, the reflexive pronoun exists to simply reflect the action back to the subject — whether it be a noun or another pronoun — of the sentence or clause. It is necessary to provide clarity in the sentence.

Take the following example:

  • Horace made _______________________ a pepperoni, lettuce, and mustard sandwich.

We might question for whom did Horace make this odd sandwich?

However, if we were to include a reflexive pronoun:

Horace made himself a pepperoni, lettuce, and mustard sandwich ...

we no longer need to question.

However, if we were to hear that Marigold served coffee to the Queen herself, we see that the pronoun, "herself," is relating not to the subject Marigold, but to object of the royal preposition, "Queen," to emphasize for whom Marigold poured coffee. In this case, the pronoun, "herself," is intensive because its antecedent is "Queen," not the subject, "Marigold."

To make things simple, we will say that the only job of the reflexive pronoun is to make sure the action is reflected back to the subject of the sentence or clause, and to show to whom or by whom the action is directed.

If the pronoun is not necessary to add clarity to the sentence, and is simply there to make the closest antecedent — the noun to which it refers — look more important, it is an intensive pronoun, and not a true reflexive pronoun.

In the examples below, you will see that the two underlined pronouns are referring to the same person or thing. Notice that the reflexive and intensive pronouns can be singular or plural.

  1. I made myself a cake. — In this case, the pronoun tells for whom the cake was made, so it is reflexive.
  2. He accidentally cut himself while building the campfire. — Who was accidentally cut? That clumsy Clark did it to himself again! If we were to take out the word, "himself," would we know who was cut? No, the pronoun adds clarity, therefore making it reflexive.
  3. She put up the tent herself. — Who put up that tent? She did, herself, with no help. Is this important information? No, she's just giving herself credit, so it is intensive.
  4. You may let yourselves in at any time. — Who may you leave in anytime? Oh, yourselves. I suppose you did need to know that! This is an example of a reflexive pronoun.
  5. We handmade the decorations ourselves. — Who made those delightful decorations? We did, all by ourselves! Could the sentence do without this information? Yes, we would still know who made the decorations, so the pronoun is intensive.
  6. Mom and I redecorated the entire house ourselves! — Ok, stop bragging, already! Here is another perfect example of an intensive pronoun.

Why do we use reflexive pronouns? We use them when we want to refer back to the subject and provide clarity.

Why do we use intensive pronouns? We use them when we want to emphasize the importance of the antecedent.

Now that you know what reflexive and intensive pronouns are and how they are used, it's time to get a bit of practice using them, so move on to the Got It? section.

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