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Reflecting on How to Use Reflexive Pronouns

 

By Leslie Gordon, BASF Bulletin Contributor

 

A notable misuse and overuse of the word “myself” triggered this quick review of pronouns. While “myself” has allure because it sounds more formal than “me,” in many cases, “myself” is wrong.

For example:
Wrong: Please address your questions to Kate or myself.

Correct: Please address your questions to Kate or me.

Wrong: Shannon, Grace and myself went to the lecture.

Correct: Shannon, Grace and I went to the lecture.

 

“Myself” – along with himself, herself, itself, themselves, ourselves, yourselves, yourself – is a reflexive pronoun.

Always the object of the sentence, never the subject, a reflexive pronoun is appropriate when the person is both the subject and the object.

I taught myself how to knit.

My toddlers like to dress themselves without help.

He cooked himself a lasagna.

The dog is scratching himself.

I am going to treat myself to a donut.

People who smoke are only hurting themselves.

When you’re tempted to use “myself” instead of “me,” use that trusty test from eight-grade English: remove the other person from the sentence. The correct pronoun becomes clear.

For example:

Wrong: Jonathan drove Stacy and myself in his car.

Correct: Jonathan drove Stacy and me in his car.

Reflexive pronouns may also be used to add emphasis or drama. They don’t change the meaning of the sentence; rather, the reflexive pronoun reinforces the subject.

I fixed it myself.

I myself witnessed the tragedy.

The manager herself told me I was promoted.

The musician signed the CD for me himself.

When “I” is used before “myself,” it can imply “also.”

I prefer early morning workouts myself.

I was pretty upset myself.

Used with “by,” a reflexive pronoun indicates being alone.

Tracy was sitting by herself.

If you have a grammar or writing question you’d like addressed in this column, email leslie.gordon@stanfordalumni.org.

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