Emphatic Pronouns | Examples, Definition & List

An intensive pronoun or emphatic pronoun is a word that’s used to place special emphasis on another noun or pronoun (e.g. ‘the man himself‘). It can indicate something special or unexpected or distinguish the person or thing in question from others.

In English, emphatic pronouns are identical to reflexive pronouns both always end in -self or -selves  but their grammatical functions are different. There are emphatic forms of all the personal pronouns and of the impersonal pronoun ‘one’.

Emphatic pronouns

Emphatic pronouns
First-person Singular I myself had no involvement in the project.
Plural We ought to handle it ourselves.
Second-person Singular Have you forgotten? You yourself told me that last week!
Plural Well, if nobody wants my help, you can do it yourselves.
 

 

 

Third-person

Masculine singular I told the student to try fixing the error himself before asking me for help.
Feminine singular The president herself attended a performance of the play.
Neuter / inanimate singular The building itself is a beautiful sight to behold.
Gender-neutral singular (epicene) The principal themself is not responsible for setting the curriculum.
Plural My parents homeschooled me themselves.
Impersonal One ought to handle problems oneself when possible, rather than relying on others.

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How are emphatic pronouns used in sentences?

An emphatic pronoun always appears in combination with a noun or another pronoun; it can’t stand on its own as a subject or object.

  • Myself have never been to Australia.
  • I myself have never been to Australia.
  • Why don’t you ask himself?
  • Why don’t you ask the man himself?

The emphatic pronoun most commonly appears directly after the antecedent (the noun or pronoun it refers to), but it can also appear later in the sentence. The kind of emphasis provided can vary based on the placement of the emphatic pronoun.

Examples: Placement of the emphatic pronoun
You yourself should do it. [more emphasis on the person]

You should do it yourself. [more emphasis on the fact the action will be performed alone]

The emphatic pronoun occasionally appears before the antecedent, separated from it with a comma. The emphasis is similar to placing it directly after the antecedent. This is a less common word order and tends to read less smoothly than other options.

Example: Emphatic pronoun before the antecedent
Myself, I wouldn’t go, but the choice is yours.

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Emphatic vs reflexive pronouns

All the same words that function as emphatic pronouns can also be used as reflexive pronouns. While the words are identical, their grammatical function in each case is different:

  • An emphatic pronoun is used in combination with a noun or pronoun, on which they place special emphasis. The sentence will still make sense (though the emphasis will change) if it is removed.
  • A reflexive pronoun is used in place of an object pronoun when the subject and object are the same person or thing. It’s essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Examples: Emphatic vs reflexive pronouns
You yourself told me that. [‘You told me that’ is a complete sentence.]

Give yourself a break. [‘Give a break’ isn’t a complete sentence.]

The robot can complete many tasks itself. [‘The robot can complete many tasks’ is a complete sentence.]

The investment pays for itself. [‘The investment pays for’ isn’t a complete sentence.]

Frequently asked questions

What is an intensive pronoun?

An emphatic pronoun (also called an intensive pronoun) is a word ending in -self or -selves that is used in combination with a noun or pronoun to place special emphasis on it.

For example, ‘myself’ in the sentence ‘I did it myself’ is an emphatic pronoun used to emphasise the subject pronoun ‘I’.

The English emphatic pronouns are myself, ourselves, yourself, yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves, and oneself. All of them can also be used as reflexive pronouns.

What is the difference between reflexive and emphatic pronouns?

Reflexive pronouns and emphatic pronouns are identical in spelling and pronunciation: they’re the words ending in -self or -selves (e.g., ‘myself’, ‘themselves’). But they play different grammatical roles:

  • Reflexive pronouns serve as the object of a transitive verb when the object is the same person or thing as the subject (e.g., ‘I believe in myself‘).
  • Emphatic pronouns (also called intensive pronouns) are used in combination with another noun or pronoun to place special emphasis on it (‘I myself wrote the code’).
Is ‘themself’ a word?

Themself is a word that’s used as an alternative singular form of the reflexive pronoun or emphatic pronoun themselves. It’s used in combination with the singular ‘they’.

But there’s still some debate about whether this usage should be considered standard. Merriam-Webster lists it as ‘nonstandard’ but indicates that its use is increasing over time. APA Style regards it as an acceptable alternative to themselves but doesn’t require its use.

If you’re worried about correctness, our advice is to continue using themselves for both the singular and the plural sense for now.

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Caulfield, J. (2023, May 15). Emphatic Pronouns | Examples, Definition & List. Scribbr. Retrieved 10 July 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/nouns/emphatic-pronoun/

Sources

Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.

Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.