How do we make a reflexive using the "oneself" when referring to actions or inactions in a sentence.

For examples:

To take oneself's life is not an act of courage

  • 10
    The construction you're looking for is To take one's own life is not an act of courage. Commented May 18, 2018 at 13:28
  • 1
    The truth is that taking one's own life is sometimes an act of courage. Look up Masada, for example. Commented May 19, 2018 at 8:26

4 Answers 4


In English we often have to use a reflexive pronoun when we have two noun phrases that refer to the same person in the same (immediate) clause. In this post, I use a small < i > to show that two noun phrases refer to the same person.

  1. Bob(i) kicked himself(i).
  2. Bob(i) put a picture of himself(i) on the wall.

In example (1), above, the noun phrase Bob refers to the same person as the noun phrase himself. Because these two noun phrases are in the same clause, we can't just use a normal pronoun, him, as the Object of the verb kicked:

  1. *Bob(i) kicked him(i). ("Him" cannot refer to the same person as "Bob")

We need to use a reflexive himself instead.

In the same way, we need to use the reflexive pronoun himself in (2), because it refers to the same person as the word Bob.

However, this rule does not apply if the second noun phrase is in Determiner function. In other words, it does not apply if the second noun phrase is a possessive:

  1. Bob(i) kicked his(i) car. (grammatical)
  2. Bob(i) put his(i) picture on the wall. (grammatical)

However, sometimes we want to emphasise that the "possessor" is the same person as we just talked about. In this situation, we use the adjective own before the noun phrase:

  1. Bob kicked his own car.
  2. Bob put his own picture on the wall.

We cannot use a reflexive pronoun as a Determiner in English:

  1. *Bob kicked himself's car. (ungrammatical)
  2. *Bob put himself's picture on the wall. (ungrammatical)

The Original Poster's example

  1. *To take oneself's life is not an act of courage.

Here the understood subject of the verb take is the same person as the person who owns the life. However, this example isn't grammatical, because it uses a reflexive pronoun as a Determiner.

Instead the writer needs to say:

  1. To take one's own life is not an act of courage.

The writer could also write:

  1. To take one's life is not an act of courage.

However, this does not put as much emphasis on the the fact that person is taking their own life. It does not have the same reflexive feeling as example (10).

It is fine to use oneself as a normal reflexive pronoun:

  1. One shouldn't kick oneself.
  2. It's nice to put a picture of oneself on the wall.

You can't make it more reflexive than it already is because oneself is as reflexive as it can possibly be. It's a reflexive pronoun and it's called that for a reason. In very simple terms, reflexive pronouns, apart from some other uses that they have, are used in situations where the effects of an action are reflected back in some way onto the doer of the action. For instance:

He hurt himself very badly.

The effects of the action of hurting are reflected back onto the person performing the action which is he in this case.

In the case of your example, it actually would be better to use the so-called impersonal you in its possessive form, your, as the sentence is talking about your life belonging to you as a generic person:

Taking your own life is not an act of courage.

For a more comprehensive explanation on what exactly the impersonal you is and how it's used, see the Wikipedia article I attached to this post. But loosely speaking, the impersonal you is not used to refer to you personally, but rather to people in general.


Oneself is really a shortening of one's self. It is not uncommon to see the phrase one's own self.

In isolation the word "self" refers to a person's nature, character, and individuality. It does not exclusively refer to a "physical" person.

For example if someone told you to "take care of yourself" it would refer to your whole person and perhaps looking after your physical, mental and emotional needs too. The inference is that one has or possesses a "self".

You should now be able to see why your sentence is incorrect:

To take oneself´s life is not an act of courage.

You mean to refer to "life" as the thing that is owned or possessed, but you have already essentially said "one's self". You wouldn't write or say "one's self's life", not because it is necessarily gramatically incorrect (you could just about get away with saying "your mother's father's brother"), but because it is a tautology.

You should just simply say:

To take one´s life is not an act of courage.

  • oneself is a reflexive pronoun. Examples of reflexive use are:

    to kick oneself, to berate oneself, to blame oneself, to declare oneself, to be oneself [idiom] . Not every verb can be used reflexively. They are, however, action or active verbs.

  • one's own [thing] means a thing that belongs to one. Own is an adjective.

As in: my own house, his own car, their own ideas

To kick oneself would be reflexive. [this is an idiom, but works in the same way as the OP's question, which is somewhat distasteful to work with here.]

Therefore: To kick oneself for another's problems is not an act of courage.

You can kick yourself, but you cannot kick your own self. You could kick your own ball in your own garden.

kick oneself means to blame oneself for something.

One's own life may be full of problems but whose life isn't?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .