Why is "ourselves" used in this sentence?

They told us to help ourselves.

Does anybody know?


Because normally the word help is used to indicate helping someone other than ourselves. For example,

They told us to help the earthquake victims trapped under the rubble.


I donated money to help the homeless.

If no object is provided, it will normally be assumed we mean someone to help somebody else. To indicate someone is aiding themselves, we need to explicitly provide the reflexive pronoun.

Also, to help oneself is an idiomatic phrase meaning to serve oneself, when referring to food at a meal. Again, normally we serve other people, so a reflexive pronoun is needed to specify when we are serving ourselves.

  • Well well I know that when the subject of a clause is the same as the object we should use "myself, yourself, ourselves etc.." but I don't see any clause there, only to-infinitive and the object of the to-infinitive. – dBio Jan 21 '18 at 17:15

"Ourselves" refers back to the "us" that is the object of "told." It is not true that reflexive pronouns can refer back only to subjects.

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