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What Is an Intensive Pronoun?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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An intensive pronoun is used within a sentence to refer back to another noun, called the antecedent, in order to add emphasis to it. This can be the subject of a sentence or an object, and is typically presented immediately with the antecedent in the sentence. A simple example of an intensive pronoun is in a sentence like, “I myself wrote that poem,” in which the pronoun “myself” refers to the subject “I” and emphasizes it. These pronouns function in a similar way to reflexive pronouns, except they serve to emphasize something and are not required within a sentence.

Much like any other type of pronoun, an intensive pronoun is used to refer to a noun within a sentence. These pronouns are formed by using a personal pronoun and adding the suffix “-self” or “-selves” to it, such as “myself” or “themselves.” The suffix “-self” is used for an intensive pronoun in a singular form, while “-selves” is used for plural pronouns.

When an intensive pronoun is used in a sentence, it is almost always presented immediately before or after the antecedent that it refers to. It is typically presented following it such as “The writer himself signed this book” or “Those firefighters themselves rebuilt this home.” The pronouns “himself” and “themselves” are used immediately after the noun phrases “The writer” and “Those firefighters” to which they refer. Although it is rare, an intensive pronoun can also be used before the antecedent, such as in the sentence, “Myself, I enjoy a good book.”

There are a limited number of intensive pronouns in English, consisting of “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” and “itself” for singular forms. The plural forms are “ourselves,” “yourselves” and “themselves” and all of these pronouns, regardless of singular or plural form, are used in the same way. Some people may say “hisself” or “theirselves,” but these are informal words and are not proper forms of intensive pronoun in English.

The way in which an intensive pronoun is used is fairly similar to a reflexive pronoun, but they function quite differently. While intensive pronouns immediately refer to their antecedent to emphasize a point, reflexive pronouns are used to indicate that some action is performed upon or for the subject of a sentence. An example of a reflexive pronoun is the word “myself” in “I threw the ball to myself.” Rather than referring back to the antecedent to emphasize its identity, the pronoun is used to indicate that an action was performed by and on the same subject. Reflexive pronouns use the same forms as intensive ones and so they can sometimes be confusing for English language learners.

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