Reflexive Verbs

1. What is a reflexive verb?

A verb is reflexive when the verb’s subject is the same as its direct object. Let’s take a minute to understand what this means:

A sentence’s subject is the person or thing who performs the verb’s action. The direct object receives the action. This means the action is done to the direct object.

When a verb is reflexive, the direct object and the subject are the same. This means that someone or something performs an action on himself, herself, or itself.

Example 1:

I am teaching myself to speak Spanish.

  • In this sentence, the verb is “teaching.”
  • The subject is “I,” because “I” am the one doing the teaching.
  • The direct object is “myself,” because “myself” is the one being taught.
  • “I” and “myself” are the same person, so the subject and direct object are the same.
  • This means that the verb (teaching) is reflexive in this sentence.

Example 2:

Be careful with those scissors. Don’t cut yourself!

  • In this example, we’re looking at the verb “cut.”
  • The subject of this sentence is “you.” When a command doesn’t mention the subject, we understand that the implied subject is “you.” For example, this sentence could read, “You don’t cut yourself,” but the “you” is not necessary.
  • The direct object is “yourself,” because “yourself” is the one who could be cut with the scissors.
  • “You” and “yourself” are the same person, so the subject and direct object are the same.
  • This means that the verb (cut) is reflexive in this sentence.

 

2. Reflexive Verb Examples

Example 1

Jon introduced himself to the new student.

  • In this sentence, the verb is “introduced.”
  • “Jon” is the subject of this sentence. He performs the action (introducing).
  • “Himself” is the direct object of this sentence, because “himself” receives the action (being introduced).
  • “Jon” and “himself” are the same person, so the subject and direct object are the same. Jon is the one who introduces someone, and he’s also the person being introduced.
  • In this sentence, “introduced” is a reflexive verb.

Example 2

Mom and Dad taught themselves to speak Spanish.

  • In this example, the verb is “taught.”
  • The subject is “Mom and Dad,” because they performed the action of teaching.
  • The direct object is “themselves.” “Themselves” receive the action of being taught.
  • “Themselves” is a reflexive pronoun that refers to Mom and Dad. Since “Mom and Dad” and “themselves” are the same people, the subject and direct object are the same. Mom and Dad are the ones teaching and the ones being taught.
  • In this sentence, “taught” is a reflexive verb.

Example 3

She hurt herself when she fell down the steps.

  • The verb in this sentence is “hurt.”
  • The subject is “she.” “She” is the one performing the action of hurting someone.
  • The direct object is “herself,” because “herself” is the one who gets hurt.
  • Since “she” and “herself” refer to the same person, the subject and direct object are the same. She both performs and receives the action of hurting.
  • In this example, “hurt” is a reflexive verb.

 

3. Identifying Reflexive Verbs

One easy way to identify reflexive verbs is by recognizing reflexive pronouns. When you see a reflexive pronoun, you know that the verb is also reflexive. In the two examples above, the reflexive pronouns are “myself” (first person singular) and “yourself” (second person singular). Here’s a chart of reflexive pronouns.

If you see one of these pronouns in a sentence, the verb is reflexive. However, sentences with reflexive verbs don’t always include reflexive pronouns. If the verb describes an action that people usually do for themselves, a reflexive pronoun isn’t necessary.

Examples:

  • Bobby bathed.
  • Sarah dressed quickly because she was late for work.

In both of these sentences, we can assume that the verbs (“bathed” and “dressed”) are reflexive. Bobby and Sarah are the subjects of the sentences because they perform the actions (bathing and dressing). We assume that they are also the direct objects because people usually bathe themselves and dress themselves.

For this reason, it isn’t necessary to include reflexive pronouns by saying, “Bobby bathed himself,” or, “Sarah dressed herself.”

Remember that a verb is reflexive when its subject and direct object are the same. The person or object performing the action also receives the action.

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