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How to Use 'Myself' and Other Reflexive Pronouns

Today's topic is how to use the word "myself." It's a reflexive pronoun just like "himself" and "herself." Take the quiz at the end!

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #641
remembering "myself"

How to use the word “myself” is one of the top 10 or 20 questions I get. Here’s an example:

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Hi, Grammar Girl. This is Chuck Tomasi, your interim Grammar Guy from ChuckChat.com, home of podcasts too numerous to mention. I hear and see examples of the misuse of the word "myself" all the time. For example, an e-mail went out from HR like this, “Please contact Squiggly, Aardvark, or myself with questions.” Could you please help listeners know when the word "myself" is appropriate and when to use a more appropriate word? Thanks!

Excellent, Chuck! Let's dissect what's wrong with that sentence: "Please contact Squiggly, Aardvark, or myself with questions." The simplest way to think of it is like this: How would you say the sentence without Squiggly and Aardvark? Then it usually becomes obvious! You would say, “Please contact me with questions,” not, “Please contact myself with questions.” When you add in Squiggly and Aardvark, it doesn't change anything. It's still correct to say, “Please contact Squiggly, Aardvark, or me with questions.”

What Are Reflexive Pronouns?

Digging into the topic a little deeper, “myself” is what's called a reflexive pronoun. That can be hard to remember, but just think about looking in a mirror and seeing your reflection. You'd say, “I see myself in the mirror.” You see your reflection, and “myself” is a reflexive pronoun. That’s how I remember the name.

All personal pronouns have a matching reflexive pronoun:

  • me — myself
  • you — yourself
  • you — yourselves
  • her — herself
  • it — itself
  • he — himself
  • one — oneself
  • our — ourselves
  • they — themselves

If you’re using “they” as a singular pronoun, some style guides also allow you to use “themself” as a singular reflexive pronoun

A reflexive pronoun is always the object in a sentence; it can never be the subject. I’ve talked about this before, but in simple terms, a subject is the one doing something in a sentence, and the object is the one having something done to it. If I hug Squiggly, I am the subject, and Squiggly is the object.

LEARN MORE: How to find a subject and an object.

You would never say, “Myself hugged Squiggly,” so you would also never say, “Aardvark and myself hugged Squiggly.”

Another time when it’s correct to use “myself” in Standard English is when you are both the subject and the object of a sentence. This is what’s happening when you’re using “myself” as a reflexive pronoun; for example, if you were to say, “I see myself playing maracas,” or, “I'm going to treat myself to a mud bath.” In both cases you are the object of your own action, so “myself” is the right word to use.

Intensive Pronouns

Pronouns like “myself” and “himself” can also be used to add emphasis to a sentence, and when they are, they’re called intensive pronouns—same words, just a different name because they're used differently. 

For example, if you witnessed a murder, you could say, “I myself saw the madman's handiwork.” Sure, it's a bit dramatic, but it's also adding emphasis in a grammatically correct way.

If you want to emphasize how proud you are of your baking, you could say, “I baked that cake myself.” Again, it’s redundant, but “myself” adds emphasis. The meaning of the sentence doesn't change if you take out the word “myself”; it would just have a different feeling because it would lack the added emphasis.

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