Me, Myself, and I: Reflections on Reflexive Pronouns

Lately I have noticed a lot of people using “myself” when they should be using “me.”

“Join Jack Brown and myself for our next podcast about Venetian canal cleaning methods.”

Nope. Sorry, I won’t be joining yourself for anything. I’ll join YOU, though. The word you want in that position, as the object of the transitive verb “to join,” is me. “Join Jack Brown and me for our next podcast.”

How can you tell? Well, would you say “Join I for my next podcast” if you were talking about just yourself? I didn’t think so. (See “Me and Julio” for more on this.) You’d say “Join me.” It doesn’t change when you add more people to the sentence. “Join Jack Brown, Mary Smith, and me for our next podcast.”

So when should you use those reflexive pronouns like myself, yourself, and themselves?

When the action is reflected back onto a noun or pronoun, you probably want to show that by using a reflexive pronoun. Here’s what I mean.

Mary bought herself a dress.

Mary bought a dress for herself.

The action (buying a dress) is turned back toward the subject (Mary). If you feel better using the preposition, use it. But you don’t have to, as you can see from the original example sentence. Inserting the preposition like that is just a test to check for correctness.

That’s not the same as “Mary bought a dress for her.” Who’s her? It’s not Mary, I can tell you that much; “her” is an objective case pronoun, so Mary bought that dress for some other woman — not for herself.

To be really grammatically picky: “Herself” is the indirect object in these sentences. In the second, it’s also the object of the preposition “for.” The “for” is understood in the first sentence (it’s not there, but we understand that’s what is meant).

You can also use reflexive pronouns for emphasis. I always think of the Grinch:

“And the Grinch, he himself, the Grinch carved the roast beast.”

Or this one:

“They themselves were thrown clear of the crash and miraculously survived.”

“I had myself a nice little nap after dinner.”

Those are all legitimate uses.

But please, people — please stop with the “Join Jack and myself for this party.” You don’t sound erudite. You sound foolish.


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.