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[th uh m-selvz, th em-] /ðəmˈsɛlvz, ˌðɛm-/
an emphatic form of them or they:
The authors themselves left the theater. The contract was written by the partners themselves.
a reflexive form of they (used as the direct or indirect object of a verb or the object of a preposition):
They washed themselves quickly. The painters gave themselves a week to finish the work. The noisy passengers drew attention to themselves.
(used with a singular indefinite pronoun or singular noun antecedent in place of the definite masculine himself or the definite feminine herself):
No one who ignores the law can call themselves a good citizen. How do you help a friend who is harming themselves?
(used in place of they or them after as, than, or but):
no soldiers braver than themselves; As for the entertainers, everyone got paid but themselves.
their usual, normal, characteristic selves:
After a hot meal and a few hours' rest, they were themselves again.
Origin of themselves
1300-50; them + selves; replacing themself, Middle English thamself; see self
Usage note
See myself, they. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for themselves
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Then their hands were bound again, and they were left to themselves an hour or more.

  • At Woodbridge people did not make public messes of themselves.

    Tutors' Lane Wilmarth Lewis
  • They had the house to themselves, moreover, save for the native boy in the kitchen.

    Aletta Bertram Mitford
  • Our doors do not open of themselves, though it be to let in the most welcome guests in the world.

    Deerbrook Harriet Martineau
  • They themselves stood whirling their heavy weapons around them.

    Antony Waymouth W.H.G. Kingston
British Dictionary definitions for themselves


  1. the reflexive form of they or them
  2. (intensifier): the team themselves voted on it
(preceded by a copula) their normal or usual selves: they don't seem themselves any more
(not standard) Also themself. a reflexive form of an indefinite antecedent such as one, whoever, or anybody: everyone has to look after themselves
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for themselves

c.1500, standard from 1540s, replacing themself (cf. theirself). Themself returned late 20c. as some writers took to avoiding himself with gender-neutral someone, anyone, etc.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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