When it comes to reflexive vs intensive pronouns, the key difference is that reflexive pronouns reflect the noun while intensive pronouns emphasize the noun.
Still confused? Let’s break it down further.
Reflexive vs intensive pronouns stump English speakers across varying levels of language fluency, from ESL students and DELTA / CELTA exam test-takers to TEFL teachers and English doctoral candidates. While both reflexive and intensive pronouns appear the same in form, their role within a sentence is unique in intent and delivery.
This grammar guide explores:
- What is a reflexive pronoun?
- What is an intensive pronoun?
- Similarities and differences between reflexive vs intensive pronouns
- How you can identify and apply reflexive and intensive pronouns to a sentence
What are Reflexive Pronouns?
A reflexive pronoun is an anaphoric pronoun ending in -self or -selves that is used when the noun of a sentence performs an action upon itself. In other words, a reflexive pronoun is applied when the subject and object of a verb are the same being.
List of Reflexive Pronouns
List of Reflexive Pronouns that Don’t Exist
Examples of Reflexive Pronouns
More times than not, a reflexive pronoun is found within the direct object position of a sentence, appearing after the subject and verb. A reflexive pronoun can also stand within the indirect object position of a sentence, meaning it follows after a preposition.
- I drove myself to the store and purchased Xavier’s birthday gift. (direct object)
- You cut yourself when clipping your dog’s nails. (direct object)
- He looked at himself in the mirror, making sure his shirt wasn’t wrinkled. (indirect object)
- Those runners think of themselves as competent athletes ready for next weekend’s road race. (indirect object)
Rules of Reflexive Pronouns
1. A reflexive pronoun cannot follow the verbs feel, relax, concentrate and meet.
2. In most cases, a reflexive pronoun doesn’t follow the verbs shave, wash or dress. A reflexive pronoun can only be applied if it is not clear who performs these actions.
3. By + reflexive pronoun = alone
Example: He enjoys dining at restaurants by himself.
4. It is not possible to replace a possessive pronoun with a reflexive pronoun. In these instances, my/your/his/her/its/our/their own should be applied instead.
- Correct: We completed our own work.
- Incorrect: We completed ourselves work.
What are Intensive Pronouns?
An intensive pronoun is an emphatic appositive ending in -self or -selves that is used to emphasize a noun within the sentence, including the subject. In short, the role of an intensive pronoun is to stress the noun alone (and nobody else) within the phrase.
List of Intensive Pronouns
List of Intensive Pronouns that Don’t Exist
Examples of Intensive Pronouns
Usually, an intensive pronoun directly follows subject of the sentence. An intensive pronoun can also follow the object.
- I myself am not a very tidy person.
- You can wash the dishes yourself.
- Doris wrote the letter herself to our club’s president.
- The principal himself stepped in as the keynote speaker for the school’s graduation ceremony.
Reflexive vs Intensive Pronouns: Their Similarities
1. Both reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns appear in the same form. In other words, myself can be either a reflexive pronoun or an intensive pronoun, depending on the context.
2. Both reflexive pronouns and intensive pronouns appear after the noun, be it a subject or an object noun. In other words, a noun must be established before either a reflexive pronoun or an intensive pronoun can appear in the sentence.
Reflexive vs Intensive Pronouns: Their Differences
1. A sentence without an intensive pronoun can still make sense, while a reflexive noun helps make a sentence make sense.
- Correct: Braxton accidentally hit himself in the face.
- Incorrect: Braxton accidentally hit in the face.
- Correct: I drew that painting myself.
- Correct: I drew that painting.
2. Reflexive pronouns follow the verb because they are the object or indirect object of the main verb. Intensive pronouns follow the noun and never appear in the object position of a sentence.