🏁 If you are doing something to yourself (or by yourself), then you can use yourself in the sentence, as in You are making the dinner yourself. If a man is fixing something on his own we can say He is fixing it himself. If a group of people is solving a problem on their own we can say They are sorting it out themselves. Where there is more than one person, we use the -elves ending.
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This issue comes up a lot because the words aren’t used that much in their plurals. These words are called reflexive pronouns because they involve the main person or group of people (the subjects of the sentence, although these can also be things) doing something to or by themselves.
Here are some quick examples involving one person or thing to make thing clearer:
I wash myself every day in the shower.
You made this cake yourself?
He opened the car boot himself.
She laughed at herself in the mirror.
The car could drive itself.
History repeats itself.
Most people will get most of these right first time. However, it’s the plurals that often give problems. Here are some examples:
We wash ourselves every day.
You made these gifts yourselves?
They opened their lockers themselves with their own keys.
These cars can drive themselves.
We need to remember that at the end of these words we must use the -elves ending to mean more than one, and never the -elf ending, which is always only for someone or something on their own.
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So, if you remember never to write ourselfs or themselfs when you should write ourselves and themselves, you’ll have added this skill to your list of up to 36 ways you’ve made your writing more accurate by now!
🎓 These words are called reflexive pronouns because they refer our action back to us, like a reflection. They pose particular problems for dialects in English, for example the Yorkshire dialect, where an oral tradition favours words like me’sen for myself, yer’sen for yourself, and so on.
When they are used for emphasis, like in I did it all myself, we can also call them emphatic pronouns, because they’re being used to add emphasis (or intensive pronouns, for the same reason).
A current debate in English is whether, if we use they as a gender neutral term (in the third person singular) to replace he or she, we should then use themself or themselves to refer back to the subject reflexively.