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When to Use “Myself” (and Other Reflexive Pronouns)
Reflexive pronouns are the ones that end with –self or –selves.
Singular: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself
Plural: yourselves, ourselves, themselves
Can you identify problems with reflexive pronouns in the following sentences?
- When students fail, they rarely blame themself.
- My boss gave the tickets to Henry and myself.
- Audrey and myself are going to the shareholders’ meeting this afternoon.
- Hilda herself was responsible for the fire that burned down her house.
- Gayle asked if Paul and herself could leave work early that afternoon.
- Johnny’s mother left him at home by hisself while she shopped for groceries.
Only sentence 4 is correct.
Themselves and Himself
Sentences 1 and 6 contain the most egregious errors: Sentence 1 should have used themselves, and sentence 6 should have used himself.
Although some people say or write hisself, themself, theirselves, and theirself, these words are considered nonstandard and aren’t appropriate in professional contexts.
When Are Reflexive Pronouns Appropriate?
Reflexive pronouns have two functions.
First, they can intensify a noun or pronoun (functioning like an appositive):
- I myself wrote that check.
- I wrote that check myself.
Notice that the person referred to as I (the subject of the clause) and the person referred to as myself are the same. The reflexive pronoun myself reflects the subject I, so the use of a reflexive is appropriate.
Notice in the second example that the reflexive pronoun/appositive does not have to be right next to the subject to intensify it.
Here’s another pair of examples:
- She assured us that she herself would lock the building.
- She assured us that she would lock the building herself.
The second (and more common) function of reflexive pronouns is as the objects of verbs, verbals (e.g., infinitives, gerunds, participles), or prepositions:
- I gave myself a treat. [Myself is the direct object of gave.]
- Before the meeting, she allowed herself time to get to the office and park her car. [Herself is the direct object of allowed.]
- In every town we visited, she bought lavish gifts for her children and herself. [Herself is one of the two objects of the prepositional phrase “for her children and herself.”]
- We voted to give ourselves a raise this year. [Ourselves is the object of the infinitive phrase “to give.”]
A Reflexive Pronoun Must Reflect the Subject of Its Own Clause
- In the clause “I gave myself a treat,” I and myself refer to the same person.
- In the clause “she allowed herself time . . . ,” she and herself are the same person.
- In the clause “she bought lavish gifts for her children and herself,” she and herself are the same person.
- In the clause “We voted to give ourselves a raise this year,” we and ourselves are the same people.
Sentence 2 in the opening quiz at the top of this article is wrong, then, because the subject of the verb in the sentence, boss, is not the same person as myself (the speaker/writer of the sentence).
It is worth pointing out, too, that the correct pronoun in sentence 2 should be me, not I, because the preposition to requires an object, not a subject. (See our article on I and me for more on that subject.)
Reflexive Pronouns Will Never Be Subjects
Sentences 3 and 5 both use a reflexive pronoun as the subject of a clause. Although a reflexive pronoun can intensify a subject, it can never be a subject.
Thus, sentence 3 should use I instead of myself, and sentence 5 should use she instead of herself.
Where I’m from, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Bobby and myself are going fishing,” but myself can never be a subject.
I suspect that many people use myself when they aren’t sure whether to use I or me, not realizing that reflexive pronouns can’t be subjects but must always reflect them.
(Scroll down to the purple boxes for additional practice sets with detailed explanations.)
- My dog gives hisself a bath every morning.
- The president gave additional responsibilities to her staff and to ourselves.
- Two of my colleagues completed the project by theirselves.
- On behalf of my husband and myself, I would like to thank you for your support.
- I always ask for challenging projects, but my supervisor never gives them to myself.
- My dog gives HIMSELF a bath every morning.
- The president gave additional responsibilities to her staff and to US. [We cannot use the reflexive pronoun ourselves here because the subject of the clause is president, not we.]
- Two of my colleagues completed the project by THEMSELVES.
- CORRECT. [The second object of the prepositional phrase “of my husband and myself” is myself because it refers to the subject of the verb in the clause, I.]
- I always ask for challenging projects, but my supervisor never gives them to ME. [Note that while the subject of the first clause is I, the subject of the clause in which the reflexive pronoun myself appears is supervisor. The reflexive pronoun must appear in the same clause as the subject it reflects.]
Additional Practice with Answers and Detailed Explanations
Choose either the five- or fifteen-question set below:
(Note that the longer set includes the five sentences in the shorter set.)