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How are these sentences different in meaning ? Please explain me.I am very confused with it.

  1. They themselves cooked a meal.

  2. They cooked themselves a meal.

  3. They cooked a meal themselves.

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The reflexive pronoun shows emphasis of the subject who carried the action. It's normally placed at the end of the sentence. The first 2 options don't make sense. – Ustanak Mar 28 at 17:43
@Ustanak The first two examples are actually perfectly good English sentences, though the first sounds a bit archaic to me, and the second has a different meaning. See JavaLatte's answer for an explanation of what they mean – Kevin Wells Mar 28 at 19:15
@KevinWells I see now, thanks! – Ustanak Mar 28 at 19:18

If a group of people got together, decided to have a meal, prepared and ate it, you would say

They cooked a meal. - they is the subject, a meal is the (direct) object.

If somebody asked you who they cooked the meal for, you would say

They cooked a meal for themselves.

You simply are reporting an event, without making any comment about it. Moving on to your sentences:

They themselves cooked a meal.

This is not simply reporting an event, it is very emphatic: it would make it absolutely clear, for example, that nobody else was involved in preparing the meal, but it does not specify who the meal was for.

They cooked themselves a meal.

This is neutral- the same as the "for themselves" sentence, but "themselves" has become an indirect object: it has lost the preposition (for), and moved in front of the object- "a meal".

They cooked a meal themselves.

This makes the point that nobody else was involved in the cooking, but it is not as emphatic as the "they themselves" sentence. It does not specify who the meal was cooekd for.

This would be a suitable response if somebody asked "what did the kids eat?". Another possible situation might be if somebody else had cooked first, then this group took their turn, for example:

the teacher demonstrated the recipes to the students, then they cooked a meal themselves

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As you say, the sequence They themselves cooked a meal emphasizes that they did it (the single act wasn't done by someone else) - but I think it's worth pointing out that the alternative They cooked a meal themselves is more likely in contexts where others have also cooked meals (and "they" later did the same thing themselves). – FumbleFingers Mar 28 at 18:19
In the next to last sentence, did you mean not as empatic as the first sentence instead? – wythagoras Mar 28 at 18:36
Thanks for the comments, @FumbleFingers and wythagoras. I have updated my answer. – JavaLatte Mar 28 at 19:12
I don't think it's true that "they themselves cooked a meal" "makes it absolutely clear that nobody else was involved in preparing the meal". I see no problem with "They're acting like I'm crazy for offering to fill in for the cook, but they themselves cooked a meal once when the cook was sick (though they did have to get some help from some of their teammates)." So while "they themselves" definitely adds emphasis, I don't think it removes ambiguity. The emphasis can serve various purposes. – ruakh Mar 29 at 6:49
Agreed, @ruakh, there may indeed be other cases where this emphasis is used. I have updated my answer. – JavaLatte Mar 29 at 8:58

This is an interesting one! I will try to answer them in order in a way that I think makes the most sense.

In your first example,

They themselves cooked a meal

You are saying that the people cooking a meal, "they," cooked a meal. The "themselves" in this sentence is not necessary, but is also not incorrect. It is essentially repeating that the people, "they," cooked a meal. You would not be incorrect in saying this, but the "themselves" is not necessary for the meaning to be clear.

In your second example,

They cooked themselves a meal

The "themselves" becomes the object of the sentence; in this case, "themselves" are the people who the meal is being cooked for. "They," the people cooking a meal, were cooking the meal for themselves to eat.

In your last example,

They cooked a meal themselves

The meaning is essentially the same as in the first example! This is where I think English trips a lot of people up, because you can move words around in a sentence, and the sentence's meaning can either stay exactly the same with the moved word, or it can take on a completely different meaning. I don't know the best way to practice understanding and speaking these sentences, but eventually the rules will become clear when you are trying to get a meaning across in a sentence.

In this sentence, the "themselves" adds a bit of specification to the sentence; you are saying that the people cooking the meal, "they," cooked the meal by themselves. It is almost implied that they cooked the meal without the help of other people. By saying "they cooked a meal themselves," you are saying that the people cooking the meal completed the task by themselves, and nobody else was cooking with them.

In this example, the "themselves" is again not necessary, but does change the meaning of the sentence a bit. Saying "they cooked a meal" makes the same amount of sense, but adding "themselves" to the end adds the fact that they cooked the meal on their own, without aide.

I would be happy to give more meaning to my explanation if it is needed!

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In the first and third cases use themselves as an intensive pronoun. It merely adds emphasis that they were the people who cooked the meal and not someone else. The first form is stronger and more poetic than the third form.

In the second case, themselves is a reflexive pronoun. The sentence really means, "They cooked a meal for themselves," because "cooked" can take an indirect object. The reflexive pronoun shows that the recipients of the meal and makers of the people were the same group of people. (If we had said, "They cooked them a meal," it means that one group is making a meal for a different group.)

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