Myself: Word Run Wild

The fear of me that gripped us by the throat late last century begs for an explanation. Perhaps the anxiety is rooted in a failure of teachers to seal the deal when distinguishing an object pronoun (in this case, me) from a subject pronoun (the correlative I). Another theory holds that people fear that using me even occasionally may make them seem egotistical. Whatever the cause of the confusion, the “safe” alternative for me traditionally has been I, which is not only unsafe but wrong.

Here’s one quick, easy, and oft-used exercise for avoiding this mix-up: In a sentence like “Sue gave candy bars to Jimmy and I” just drop “Jimmy and” and voice the six remaining words in your head. Would you ever say, “Sue gave candy bars to I?” No, because it simply doesn’t sound right. (Sound, called “a matter of ear” by E.B. White in The Elements of Style, comes into play in good writing as well as speech, improving word placement, a sentence’s rhythm, and more.) Likewise, listening closely to what you say is easier than diving into a grammar guide to find “Object pronouns can be a direct object or an indirect object, the object of a verb, the object of a preposition, blah blah blah…”

If myself is today’s go-to safeguard against the increasingly intimidating me, it may be because it doesn’t sound quite so jarring as an errant I. But jarring it is, as in these three examples:

  • My wife and myself will be taking a Caribbean cruise.
  • Stephanie gave myself a pat on the back.
  • The waiter handed the check to myself instead of my boss.

Catching what’s wrong by ear can help, but so can knowing that myself is a reflexive pronoun, called so because it reflects back to something in the sentence, as do himself, itself, ourselves, yourself, and so on. And there’s more:

  • Reflexive pronouns are also called intensive pronouns because they’re sometimes added for emphasis. An example: “Ralph seemed to have had one too many, so I myself drove the car.”)
  • You also safely use this reflexive pronoun when you’re both the subject and object of a sentence. Two examples: “I see myself as thin as a rail by the end of the year” and “I’m going to do myself a favor.” You use it again when you wish to add emphasis to the single-letter word I, as in “I myself will reveal the secret code someday.”

The do’s and don’ts aren’t all that hard to grasp, are they? Writing this piece gave me a refresher course too. Now it’s up to ourselves us to pull in the reins on myself and help set me free.

2 Responses to Myself: Word Run Wild

  • LaDonna says:

    This is my biggest pet peeve of the moment. I have spent hours and hours correcting this very mistake for countless Twitter users. It is amazing that these complete strangers often get upset at my unsolicited advice. Or maybe I’m just a grammar troll…

    • Fred says:

      Correcting someone’s choice of words in person can be quite touchy, to say the least. But when it comes to tweets from people you’ve never met, go for it LaDonna!

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