Intensive pronouns are identical to reflexive pronouns—myself, yourself, ourselves, himself, herself, itself, and themselves. However, intensive pronouns do not serve a grammatical function in a sentence; instead, they add emphasis by reiterating the subject of the sentence (known as the pronoun’s antecedent).
Using intensive pronouns in a sentence
When we use an intensive pronoun to add emphasis to a sentence, we generally place it after either its antecedent or the direct object of the verb. For instance:
- “The surgeon general himself will oversee the operation.”
- “They themselves indicated that the transactions might be illegal.”
- “He did it himself, much to his father’s surprise.”
- “We designed the album artwork ourselves.”
If we use an intensive pronoun to add a pointed or argumentative emphasis to the sentence, it comes after the direct object, as in:
- “I can operate the TV remote myself, thank you very much.”
- “Our son can do the project himself, Hank.”
Distinguishing between intensive and reflexive pronouns
Although intensive and reflexive pronouns are identical in appearance, there is a clear distinction between them. Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject of a sentence also receives the action of the sentence—that is, the subject of the verb is also the object the same verb. For example:
- “I saw myself in the mirror.”
- “She asked herself if it was worth the hassle.”
- “The actor played himself in the film about his life.”
In all of these sentences, we use reflexive pronouns to indicate that the subject of the verb is also the recipient of its actions.
However, we use an intensive pronoun if we want to place special emphasis on who is performing the action of the subject on a separate object. Because of this, the intensive pronoun is not grammatically integral to the meaning of the sentence. Take, for example, these three sentences:
- “John played the tuba.”
- “John played the tuba himself.”
As we can see, the addition of himself has no bearing on the logical meaning of the sentence—in both cases, it is John who played the tuba. However, by adding the intensive pronoun himself in the second sentence, we let the reader or listener know that it is somehow remarkable or noteworthy that it was John who played the tuba, as opposed to someone else.