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I recently saw the sentence

She knew what he was talking about because of a previous conversation between themselves.

Why is the reflexive pronoun themselves used instead of them? Would

She knew what he was talking about because of a previous conversation between them.

be incorrect?

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  • To have a conversation with one another or each other. versus: to have a conversation with others.

  • To converse with one another or each other.

We had three conversations [with each other] during the week.

The phrase "with each other or one another"is a signal for a reflexive pronoun:

  • We had three conversations [between ourselves] during the week. That means "We spoke to each other three times in conversations." They had a conversation [between themselves]". In other words, between themselves and not between themselves and other people.

Please note: "We had 10 apples between us." When you read that, you do not know which individual had what number of apples. The same would be true of conversations.

Question: "How many [phone] conversations did the three friends have that week?" Answer: I don't know how many each had, but they had 5 conversations between them.

  • between them refers to some number of conversations (or items) per person
  • between themselves refers to conversations engaged in by two (or more) people with each other.

That said, colloquially, people do say: conversation between them, but you can see where it might be misleading with my example, and why themselves is more accurate.

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