A Reflection on Reflexive Pronouns

One of my G+ followers asked me about “oneself” and “one’s self” a week or so ago, and I commented that I thought I’d written about reflexive pronouns before.

I think I did, but as a daily tip and not as a blog post. So, here’s a blog post. Ask and ye shall receive. (Someone said that, I’m pretty sure.)

“Oneself” belongs to the category of reflexive pronouns. They all end with -self, and they all serve the same purposes: they either intensify a statement (“John himself ate that entire pie”), or they reflect the action in a sentence back onto the subject as either a direct or indirect object (“You gave yourself a two-week deadline for that short project”). It’s also rather scarce, because it’s — well, it’s rather stuffy. “Oneself” doesn’t lend itself to everyday usage. (I know you see what I did there.) It works well in statements like “One should strive for self-sufficiency, for the ability to care for oneself.” Stuffy. Yep.

So what about “one’s self,” then? Well, I can’t find anything in any of my usage manuals speaking directly to it, but I did locate a brief tidbit at the Grammarist that matches what I think is the main distinction. If you mean “the self” in a spiritual, psychological, or philosophical sense, then you’ll want to say “one’s self.” As in: Meditation helps one’s self find the center of calm.

One helps oneself as one can, and one’s self can benefit from time well spent with oneself. There. Stuffy, philosophical, and grammatically correct.

I’m going to pat myself on the back now.

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