Episode 40: February 9, 2007
Legal Lad here, filling in again for Grammar Girl. The poor girl is still sick. She asked me to thank everyone who has sent "get well" messages. She appreciates them a lot.
How to Use Myself
Today's topic is how to use the word myself. Grammar Girl says that how to use myself is among the top 10 or 20 questions that people send in to the show. Here's an example:
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 the aardvark? Then it usually becomes obvious! You would say, “Please contact me with questions,” not, “Please contact myself with questions.” So when you add in Squiggly and the aardvark, that 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 into 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.
Other reflexive pronouns include himself, herself, yourself, itself, and themselves. A reflexive pronoun is always the object of a sentence; it can never be the subject. Grammar Girl has talked about it before, but a subject is the one doing something in a sentence, and the object is the one having something done to it. If I step on Squiggly, I am the subject and Squiggly is the object.
You would never say, “Myself stepped on Squiggly,” so you would also never say, “Aardvark and myself stepped on Squiggly.”
Another case where it is correct to use myself is when you are both the subject and the object of a sentence. For example, “I see myself playing marimbas,” or, “I'm going to treat myself to a mud bath.” In both of these cases you are the object of your own action, so myself is the right word to use.
Use Reflexive Pronouns to Add Emphasis
Reflexive pronouns can also be used to add emphasis to a sentence. (In case you care, they are then called intensive pronouns.) For example, if you had witnessed a murder, you could say, “I myself saw the madman's handiwork.” Sure, it's a tad dramatic, but it's grammatically correct. If you want to emphasize how proud you are of your new artwork, you could say, “I painted it myself.” Again, myself just adds emphasis. The meaning of the sentence doesn't change if you take out the word myself; it just has a different feeling because now it lacks the added emphasis.
There you go! The quick and dirty tip is to think about how you would write the sentence if you were the only one in it, and then use that pronoun. For example, “Please contact me.” That's where people get most hung up using myself. And then you can also remember that it's OK to use reflexive pronouns for emphasis and when you are the object of your own action.
We have an excellent book giveaway this week, but first Grammar Girl also asked me to send a special thank-you to Mr. Rish's Enriched English 10 class at Newark High School in Ohio, and especially to a student named Brandi, who wrote and recorded a story imagining how Grammar Girl spends her time. Grammar Girl says it cheered her up when she was feeling low.
The book we're giving away this week is Words of a Feather: A Humorous Puzzlement of Etymological Pairs, by Murray Suid. If you're interested in the origin of words, I think you'll enjoy this book, because it examines pairs of words that seem unrelated but have similar roots; for example, grammar and glamor. It was interesting because Stewart from Hawaii had just called in to note that grammar and glamor have the same origin and then this book showed up with more details. Grammar, over the years, has meant the study of literature, then the study of Latin, then the study of magic and astrology, and it is at this point in history when the word glamor arose as a corrupt form of grammar. Glamor then went on to take on the meaning related to beauty and charm that it has today, while grammar went back to relating just to language.
The publisher was very generous and provided four books for our giveaway, so the winners are Corey from Atlanta and listeners named Stephanie, Jean, and Cheryl. Congratulations and please check your e-mail for instructions. Again, that book is Words of a Feather.