Reflexive Pronouns



Loyal reader Bill P. and others have written in commenting on what seems to be a growing misuse of words known as reflexive pronouns. Have you either heard or seen in writing a sentence like this, “Please give it to John or myself”? Is that right or wrong? Let’s have a look.

Rule: Reflexive pronouns—myself, himself, herself, itself, themselves, ourselves, yourself, yourselves—should be used only when they refer back to another word in the sentence. (A reflexive pronoun reflects the action described by the verb.)

Correct:
I worked myself to the bone.
(The word myself refers back to the word I.)

Incorrect:
Please give it to John or myself.
(The word myself does not refer back to another word.)

Correct:
Please give it to John or me.
(Why do some people use myself rather than me in the sentence above? Is it because it sounds more “upper class”? Possibly—however, it is incorrect grammar.)

Reflexive pronouns can be either object pronouns (as in the examples above) or subject pronouns, depending on the usage and context.

Correct:
I myself don’t believe one word of the story. 
(Here the reflexive is an emphatic pronoun repeating the subject—it’s essentially a non-punctuated appositive, which renames, restates, or explains the word or words it refers to.)

Although the following example is not strictly an incorrect reflexive pronoun because it does not reflect the action described by the verb, the principle is the same.

Incorrect:
My brother and myself did it.

Correct:
My brother and I did it.

 

Pop Quiz

Select the correct sentence.

1A. Please call either Juanita or myself when you get this message.
1B. Please call either Juanita or me when you get this message.

2A. The chief of staff and myself want to thank you for your hard work.
2B. The chief of staff and I want to thank you for your hard work.

3A. Since we each have a job, we are able to support ourselves.
3B. Since we each have a job, we are able to support us.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1A. Please call either Juanita or myself when you get this message.
1B. Please call either Juanita or me when you get this message. (Correct)

2A. The chief of staff and myself want to thank you for your hard work.
2B. The chief of staff and I want to thank you for your hard work. (Correct)

3A. Since we each have a job, we are able to support ourselves. (Correct)
3B. Since we each have a job, we are able to support us.

Posted on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, at 12:59 pm

5 Comments on Reflexive Pronouns

5 responses to “Reflexive Pronouns”

  1. Jude Smith says:

    Why are people putting themselves first in their sentences?

    For example, “Myself and Mary went to the movies”. Even people I expect to know rules of grammar do it. I was taught to place my link last in a sentence, ‘Mary and I went…’.

    It’s as though they know that ‘Me and Mary…’ is unacceptable, but ‘Myself and Mary…’ is OK. Am I just being picky?

    • We do not believe you are being picky. You are just more conscious of proper grammar than some people. There is no formal rule regarding putting I or me last when referring to yourself and others. It is a matter of courtesy. “Mary and I went to the movies” is correct rather than “Myself and Mary” or “Me and Mary” because Mary and I are the subjects of the sentence. The subject form of the pronoun is I. Myself is used only when it refers back to another word in the sentence.

  2. Kelly F says:

    Thank you for bringing this issue up. It has become my biggest pet peeve. I believe it is done because it “sounds” more sophisticated, like someone always using ‘I’ when ‘me’ is the correct word. Instead of correcting people, I will just start saying, “Wow, you just used a reflexive pronoun incorrectly!”

  3. Rich K. says:

    In the following paragraph there is a grammatical mistake in the three-word phrase “they refer back,” which
    is redundant. “Re” means to “go back,” and, hence, the grammatically correct usage should simply
    be “they refer to another …” Basically, to say “refer back” means to “go back back,” which is incorrect.

    • Our copy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has a Usage Note specifically dealing with the belief that “refer back” is redundant. In short, the Usage Note explains that the “objection is misplaced. In fact, an expression can refer either to something that has already been mentioned or to something that is yet to be mentioned …”

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