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What Is An Intensive Pronoun? Definition And Examples

Nouns are one of the major parts of speech that we use in our sentences. Often, we replace nouns with pronouns in order to make our sentences shorter or less repetitive. But what if we want to make our sentences more … intense? For example, we could say Santa Claus attended the holiday party. Snoresville! We knew he was coming. However, we can call up an intensive pronoun and say Santa Claus himself appeared in front of the children. Wow! Unbelievable! How unexpected! The speaker sounds excited. Why? Intensive pronouns are what you need if you really want to add a little bit of surprise to your sentences, as they imply something out of the ordinary has happened.

What is an intensive pronoun?

An intensive pronoun is a pronoun that refers back to the subject of a sentence in order to emphasize it. For example, the pronoun himself is an intensive pronoun in the sentence The detective himself was the culprit. The pronoun himself refers back to the subject the detective in order to add emphasis. By using an intensive pronoun, the sentence highlights how unexpected it is that a detective who is supposedly investigating a crime is actually the criminal. An intensive pronoun often immediately follows the noun or pronoun it refers to, but this isn’t always the case.

There are many different reasons why we would use intensive pronouns, such as to point out an odd or unexpected situation or to highlight an impressive achievement.

 

  • The prime minister herself appeared at the rally. (Nobody expected the prime minister to be there.)
  • The third-grader wrote the bestselling book themselves. (It is an impressive feat for a young child to write a successful book.)

List of intensive pronouns

Depending on how many people an intensive pronoun refers to, it can be singular or plural. All intensive pronouns end in either -self or -selves.

Singular intensive pronouns

An intensive pronoun is singular if it only refers to one person. Singular intensive pronouns include:

 

  • myself
  • yourself
  • herself, himself, itself

Plural intensive pronouns

An intensive pronoun is plural if it refers to more than one person or thing. The most commonly used plural intensive pronouns are:

 

  • ourselves
  • yourselves
  • themselves

Themself

The word themself is sometimes used in nonstandard English as a variant of the word themselves or as an intensive version of the word they as a singular pronoun to neutrally refer to a person. For example,

 

  • The people themself wanted a democracy. (Themself is used instead of themselves.)
  • The student made the project themself. (The student’s gender is unknown or not relevant.)

However, the word themself is also used to refer to a person who identifies as nonbinary. Using themself in this context is perfectly acceptable:

 

  •  Gale themself paid for the party.

It is important to use the correct pronouns to refer to a person. You can learn more about themself and the singular they in our exploration of the topic.

What is a gender-neutral and nonbinary pronoun?

In the above list of singular intensive pronouns, the words herself and himself are unique in that they are used to specify a person’s (or animal’s) gender. While these two are the most common, there are plenty of other intensive pronouns available that don’t carry any kind of association with a particular gender.

It is important not to misidentify someone, even accidentally, by carelessly using gendered language when it isn’t needed. Luckily, there is an easy way to ensure your speech and writing is inclusive of all gender identities: you can use gender-neutral language. If you don’t know which reflexive pronoun is best to use—or would prefer not to use a gendered pronoun at all—the words themselves or themself are what you need.

The pronouns themselves or themself can be (and are increasingly) used as a singular gender-neutral or nonbinary substitute for the gender-specific pronouns himself and herself. (Other terms are also used in this way, but themselves/themself are the most common.) Themselves or themself can be used when you don’t want or need to specify someone’s gender. Themself can also be used when referring to a person who identifies as nonbinary. In this case, it’s always important to use the pronouns that the person prefers.

To learn more, explore in-depth resources about gender-neutral language.

Examples of intensive pronouns

Let’s look at some examples of intensive pronouns used in sentences.

Singular intensive pronouns

 

  • I built this house myself.
  • You need to find the answer yourself.
  • It turned out that Abraham Lincoln himself had written the poem.
  • The band’s singer wrote all of the songs herself.
  • The mouse itself opened the door to the cage.

Plural intensive pronouns

 

  • We will have to escape the island ourselves.
  • You yourselves have the potential to accomplish anything.
  • It turned out that the gardeners themselves had taken the tractor.

Intensive pronouns vs. reflexive pronouns

Intensive pronouns are identical in form to another type of pronoun known as reflexive pronouns, which also end in -self or -selves. However, these two types of pronouns serve different grammatical functions.

As has been said, intensive pronouns are used to emphasize a subject by repeating it:

 

  • Gandhi himself was the author of the book. (We are emphasizing that Gandhi is the author because it might be unexpected or newsworthy.)

Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and object of a sentence are the same:

 

  • Julianna introduced herself to the class. (Julianna is both the subject and the object of the sentence: Juliana introduced Juliana.)

Proper usage

Each intensive pronoun corresponds to a personal pronoun. The intensive pronoun refers to the same person or thing that its personal pronoun does. Each of the commonly used intensive pronouns are listed below:

 

  • myself: me (the speaker or the writer)
  • yourself: you as a singular (another single person besides the speaker/writer)
  • itself: it (a thing or an animal)
  • himself: him (a male person or animal)
  • herself: her (a female person or animal)
  • ourselves: us (the speaker/writer and other people together)
  • yourselves: you as a plural (other people besides the speaker/writer)
  • themselves: them (a group of people, animals, or objects)
  • themself: them as a singular (see the usage explanation above.)

How much do you know about possessive pronouns?

An intensive pronoun is not used by itself in a sentence. An intensive pronoun follows the noun/pronoun it refers to, often immediately.

❌ Incorrect: Himself solved the mystery. (Who?)
✅ Correct: Dr. Watson himself solved the mystery.
✅ Also correct: Dr. Watson solved the mystery himself.

If you are unsure which intensive pronoun to use, think about what the subject is and what personal pronoun you would use if that subject were the object of the sentence:

 

  •  The tiny hamster ____ gathered the leaves.

We know that the tiny hamster is the subject, but we don’t know which intensive pronoun to use. To figure this out, let’s use the tiny hamster as an object in a different sentence and see which personal pronoun we would use.

 

  • I fed cabbage to the tiny hamster.
  • I fed cabbage to it.

Because we would use it to refer to the tiny hamster, the correct intensive pronoun to use in our original sentence is itself:

 

  • The tiny hamster itself gathered the leaves.

If we know what sex the hamster is, we could also use the gendered pronouns herself or himself in this sentence as well:

 

  • The tiny hamster herself gathered the leaves.

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Learn about all the types of pronouns here.

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