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    Learn English > English lessons and exercises > English test #116445: Reflexive or reciprocal pronouns
    > Other English exercises on the same topics: Frequent mistakes | Pronouns [Change theme]
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    Reflexive or reciprocal pronouns

    Today, we'll tackle a problem leading to frequent confusions when foreign learners speak and write:

    What's the difference between "reflexive pronouns" and reciprocal ones "?

    - «  Oh dear! What on earth do you mean? »,  students will ask...  Alright! Let's stop uttering what they call « mysterious words»  and let's see calmly...


    I) REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS: They're easy ones!... 

    Imagine you're standing in front of a mirror: you're looking at yourself... You can see yourself, that is "the reflection of a person".

              1. Reflexive pronouns: often correspond, in your minds, to « me »,« you », « him/ her/ it », « us » « them »,« everybody ».

     - He looked at himself in the mirror; (Here, there's only one person, but two figures, a reflection, and an individual. 

    and not * He looked at him in the mirror. (Here, there would be two different people (two males – let's say Tom and Tim): one of them was looking at the reflection of the other. 

    The universality of « everyone » is expressed by « one=> oneself» (as we can find in the definitions of dictionaries ).




                 2. Reflexive pronouns: I look at myself in the mirror.








     I   look at  MYSELF in the mirror. 
     You (singular)  look at YOURSELF  in the mirror. 
     He looks at  HIMSELF  in the mirror. 
     She  looks at HERSELF in the mirror. 
     The dog (It) looks at ITSELF in the mirror
     We look at  OURSELVES  in the mirror
     You (plural) look at YOURSELVES  in the mirror
     They look at THEMSELVES in the mirror


              3. They also correspond to myself, yourself, him/ herself, ourselves, yourself/ yourselves, themselves, meaning "with nobody's help". 

    - Lucy, you're old enough to do this yourself! I won't do it for you. 



              4. « By myself/ yourself/ himself ... » = alone, isolated.

    - I stayed by myself for 3 weeks ... It seemed quite long...




              5. A few expressions or idioms: 

         - Help yourself! = Serve yourself, take a portion of... 

        - Behave yourself = Be a good boy, or girl!  

         - Make yourself at home! = make yourself comfortable! 

         - Please yourself! = Do what you like! 


    II)  RECIPROCAL PRONOUNS    "She's doing it again!" ) : involve several different persons , both inter-acting between two (or more) groups.

    1.           1. EACH OTHER and ONE ANOTHER : 

        Here, I'll speak to you about a not-so distant past...

       Well, well! in that time, and even quite long after, there used to be a difference between « each other » (representing  only two people) and « one another » (where a whole group of people were acting).

     Nowadays, when (almost) everything is allowed, the two expressions are supposed to be equivalent (even for Oxford/ Cambridge dictionaries/ and ...  the last edition of my favourite grammar book). Every one of them gives examples perfectly respecting the initial rules, but clearly proclaim that both expressions are commonly heard, without any distinction of number of actors, and do so legitimately in any case. 

    Consequently, though I was taught and taught students "Queen's  English!" (= « no need to be more Catholic than the Pope »)... I'll comply with the reality principle of our time. I tell my own students to know the original rules and then adapt to the different situations they meet. I do it too. In this lesson, I'll remain a purist and I'll give you the freedom to be one, or not. 

    -        - He and I looked at each other and admitted that we had loved each other for months. [=he looked at me and I looked at  him] (Isn't that romantic ?)         

         - The members of the group consulted with one another.[= each of the people in the group consulted with the other members of the group]  (the ones with the others!)

        2. Reciprocal pronouns can bear the genitive indicating possession: each other's / one another's. 

      - This summer, my friend and I will stay in each other's flats. 




                               Let's help one another!


    You see! That wasn't difficult...  So, you just have to keep all this in mind and ... face the test!  


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    1. 'Look, Lucy, I've dressed !' ' You have! You're a big boy, but your sweat-shirt's inside-out, and your left shoe's on your right foot, Leo! I'll help you...'
    2. 'Have you seen your hair? Go and look at in a mirror before we can go out.'
    3. At first, Paul and Jenny were dumbfounded, looked at and then both started laughing.
    4. 'You know what? Michael repaired his bike after falling down and damaging his brakes...'
    5. 'It's strange to listen to speaking or singing with a recorder.'
    6. Little Tom has hurt when he fell down in the playground.
    7. It's a pity people can't see as others see them!'
    8. No, I won't go and get some ice cream for Josie... She'll go if she wants some.
    9. To go to the south, my brother and I will drive cars on different days. I'll drive my nephews in their Dad's car...
    10. With your foreign in-laws, are you speaking English or French to ?
    11. Paul and Sylvia were each looking at a series of photos of when they were very young.
    12. Please, students... Let some of you speak and listen to . Then, get your answer ready, and stop grumbling to .



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