Myself is Not the same as Me or I

Back when teachers taught grammar in English class–in contrast to things like “shaping your writing for your community”–anyone who had been to school for eight years or more did not make mistakes with I, me, and myself.

Nowadays, when “grammar” is a dirty word for the people who run the schools, college graduates flounder with the simple usage of these pronouns.

Myself belongs to a category of words called reflexive and intensive pronouns.

Each personal pronoun has a reflexive form:

I=myself
you=yourself
he=himself
she=herself
it=itself
we=ourselves
you=yourselves
they=themselves

That’s it. There are no such critters as “hisself,” themself,” or “theirselves.”

The function of the reflexive pronoun is to enable the subject of a verb to be the receiver of the verb’s action:

I cut myself.
They paid themselves a salary.
He congratulated himself for escaping the consequences of his act.

The function of the intensive pronoun is to give emphasis to a doer:

I myself painted the barn. I painted it myself.
The residents themselves drove out the drug dealers.

The reflexive pronoun is usually used as the object of a verb, but it can be the object of a preposition, as long as it reflects the subject of the sentence:

I painted the barn by myself.
They spent the evening by themselves.

Errors with the reflexive pronoun forms occur when the speaker uses it in place of an object pronoun. Every personal pronoun has an object form:

I=me
you=you
he=him
she=her
it=it
we=us
you=you
they=them

More and more frequently, speakers use “myself” where “I” is called for as well as in contexts that call for “me.” Here are some examples of both types of error as seen on the web:

Myself and my wife were receiving social security… (My wife and I were…)

Myself and my partner are thinking of moving to Australia (My partner and I are…)

Ron Paul and myself can grow the base… (Ron Paul and I can…)

…easy for myself and the other passengers (easy for me and the other passengers)

What is the benefit to myself and my organization from attending the LDS? (What is the benefit to me…)

NOTE: Literary usage does not always conform to standard usage. The word “myself” often occurs in book titles and song lyrics in ways that disagree with standard usage. In such contexts the word “myself” is often intended to convey the sense of “my Self,” or a corresponding subject verb construction is “understood.” For example: Coming Home to Myself by Wynona Judd, and Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela.

2 comments to Myself is Not the same as Me or I

  • Lawrence,
    I think this “me first” approach is embedded in the culture; the grammatical mayhem is just a belated symptom. Back in the 80s or early 90s I was giving my usual spiel on putting the other person first in a compound subject when one high school student raised his hand to ask, in a rather bemused tone of voice, “why would you want to put the other person first?”

  • Maeve,

    Thank you for this article. No other three-word phrase presently comes to mind that so readily accommodates two errors as the phrase “Myself and (name).” The two errors I have in mind are the misuse of the word “myself” in place of “me,” and the lack of respect and caring shown for a fellow human being by a person in putting themselves ahead of the other person included in the phrase.

    I hear this “myself” in place of “me” mistake everywhere in today’s “me” society. It is easy to excuse this mistake by people who, for whatever reason, you suspect simply do not know better. It is not so easy to excuse repeated instances of this mistake by supposedly well-educated people; such as, religious ministers, teachers, sports heroes, politicians, radio and TV personalities and reporters, print reporters, and others too numerous to catalog here.

    The mistake of people putting themselves ahead of another person is one not to be lightly forgiven of anyone, as this mistake shows a lack of respect and caring for a fellow human being.

    I long for the day when I am in the presence of a person who never makes an English grammar or usage mistake, for then I shall know I am in the presence of Jesus Christ. Until then I will not hold my breath.

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