Elsewhere on this site, we talk about using I and me correctly. This article addresses the appropriate use of myself and other reflexive pronouns.
It’s not uncommon to hear someone use myself as a subject in a sentence, such as in “Anna and myself are going home.”
When we remove “Anna and,” it’s easy to hear that “Myself is going home” doesn’t sound right.
The grammatical reason is that reflexive pronouns should never be used as subjects. “Anna and I are going home” is appropriate because in this sentence we need a subject—we need the pronoun I.
So when do we use reflexive pronouns, the ones that end with –self or –selves (myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, yourselves, ourselves, themselves)?
Here are three points you need to know:
First, Reflexive Pronouns Can Be Objects but Never Subjects
Reflexive pronouns serve as objects of verbs, verbals, or prepositions:
- I gave myself a treat. [Myself is the object of the verb gave.]
- Before the meeting, she allowed herself time to park her car. [Herself is the object of the verb allowed.]
- We voted to give ourselves a raise. [Ourselves is the object of the verbal (infinitive) phrase “to give.”]
- The candidate inspired large donations, propelling herself to the top of the polls. [Herself is the object of the verbal (participial) phrase “propelling herself to the top of the polls.”]
- 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.”]
Second, Reflexive Pronouns Can Intensify Any Noun or Pronoun
When reflexive pronouns serve as intensifiers, they function like appositives, words that rename other words:
- I myself wrote that check.
- I wrote that check myself.
- Harriot assured us that she herself would lock the building.
- Harriot assured us that she would lock the building herself.
As we can see in the second and fourth sentences, the reflexive pronoun does not have to be right next to a noun to intensify it.
Third, a Reflexive Pronoun Must Always Refer to the Subject of Its Own Clause
This third point is very important: Regardless of which role a reflexive pronoun fills—object or intensifier—the reflexive pronoun must refer to (think “reflect”) the same person or thing as the subject of the same 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 refer to the same person.
- In the clause “she bought lavish gifts for her children and herself,” she and herself refer to the same person.
- In the clause “We voted to give ourselves a raise this year,” we and ourselves refer to the same people.
- In the clause “I myself wrote that check,” I and myself refer to the same person.
- In the clause “that she would lock the building herself,” she and herself refer to the same person.
Three of these four sentences use reflexive pronouns incorrectly:
- 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.
- Sentence 3 correctly uses the reflexive pronoun: herself intensifies the subject Hilda.
- Sentence 1 is wrong because the subject—boss—is not the same person as myself. (It is worth pointing out, too, that the correct pronoun in sentence 1 should be me, not I, because the preposition to requires an object, not a subject.)
- Sentences 2 and 4 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.
Sentence 2, then, should use I instead of myself, and sentence 4 should use she instead of herself.
Many people use myself when they aren’t sure whether to use I or me. (Go here for an article on that subject.)