Here’s a puzzle for you: Study the four sentences below and provide a rule that explains (a) why the first 3 are correct while the last one (marked with an *) is incorrect, and (b) why sometimes the reflexive pronoun (ending in –self/-selves) appears before its referent (underlined) and sometimes after:
- Pete shot himself in the foot.
- Speaking for himself at last, John proposed to Priscilla.
- The picture of himself on the post office wall disturbed John quite a bit.
- *Joan told me herself hates chocolate.
Shouldn’t that first sentence be as easy to explain as Pete shot Joe in the foot?
Maybe so, but generative grammarians have had a heck of a time accounting for reflexives. They have developed a whole line of explanation, known as binding theory, to regulate reflexives and other usages, called anaphora, in which a pronoun or noun phrase always refers to another noun in the same sentence.