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Reflexive Pronoun 'Oneself' and 'By Oneself'

Ask a Teacher: Reflexive Pronoun “Oneself” and “By Oneself”
Ask a Teacher: Reflexive Pronoun “Oneself” and “By Oneself”
Reflexive Pronoun “Oneself” and “By Oneself”
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will answer a question from Vietnam.


Dear VOA,

I am writing because I want to know the difference between "oneself" and "by oneself.”

Can you explain it to me?

Thanks a lot.

Bích Tiên, Vietnam.


Thank you for your question!

“Oneself” is a reflexive pronoun. A reflexive pronoun describes the subject of a sentence. We can use it when the subject and the object of the sentence describe the same person. Other reflexive pronouns include myself, yourself, herself, himself, and themselves.

“Oneself” is also a third-person singular pronoun, like herself or himself, but it does not show gender. It can describe a male or female.

Here is an example with “oneself.”

A selfie is a picture one takes of oneself.

In this example, the subject of the clause, “one,” is taking a picture of “oneself” and no one else. We can see “oneself” is describing the subject.

In American English, “oneself” is formal and rarely appears in everyday speech. It is mostly used in academic writing.

Instead of “oneself,” most speakers use “yourself” when talking about another person directly in informal speech.

When working from home, one often talks to oneself.

When working from home, you often talk to yourself.

By oneself

And now for “by oneself.”

“By” is a preposition. Although it has other meanings, when used with a reflexive pronoun, it means alone or without help.

One could carry this television by oneself.

In this sentence, “One” does not need any help to carry the TV. One can do it alone.

We can rewrite this sentence in everyday speech.

You could carry this television by yourself.

Sometimes we use a reflexive pronoun without “by”. This usage may have the same meaning as “by” + reflexive pronoun.

You could carry the TV yourself.

I hope these examples have helped you to understand the difference with reflexive pronouns and using “oneself!”

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

gendern. the state of being either male or female

academic – adj. relating to school and education

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