How to use myself and other reflexive pronouns
Authors often misuse reflexive pronouns like myself, yourself, and itself. Usually, they use them interchangeably with I, me, you, it, etc. (maybe because they sound fancier). In this post, I’ll define reflexives and discuss how to use myself and other similar words in a grammatically correct way.
What are reflexive pronouns?
Pronouns are words that stand in for other nouns. For example, instead of repeating the name Sarah, I would use the pronoun she.
Reflexive pronouns are defined as pronouns that refer to the subject of the sentence. In most cases, a reflexive pronoun denotes when the subject is performing an action on or to itself. In English, reflexive pronouns end in -self or -selves. Consider the following example:
The cat cleaned itself.
The subject of this sentence is cat, and the reflexive pronoun is itself. The pronoun is reflexive because it refers back to the thing doing the action. You can also think of it this way: if the object and subject of the sentence are the same person or thing, then the pronoun will be reflexive.
Using and misusing reflexive pronouns
Reflexive pronouns should be reserved for instances where the pronoun refers back to the subject of the sentence. However, authors regularly use reflexive pronouns interchangeably with other nouns or regular pronouns. Here’s a common example of a misused reflexive pronoun:
Jenn took Erin and myself out for lunch.
In this case, the reflexive pronoun myself doesn’t refer back to the subject of the sentence—that is, the object myself is not the subject Jenn. Thus, myself should be revised to the pronoun me.
Here’s another example:
The human brain itself is an amazing thing.
Writers often use reflexive pronouns to draw emphasis to something. In this example, the reflexive itself is superfluous because it doesn’t actually stand in for a word. I can’t say “The human brain it is an amazing thing,” so the sentence should therefore be revised to “The human brain is an amazing thing.”
The key takeways
If you’re ever wondering how to use myself or other reflexive pronouns, first consider if the pronoun is needed at all. Does it stand in for a word that you must have in the sentence? Second, ask yourself if the pronoun refers back to the subject of the sentence. In other words, consider if the subject of the sentence is performing an action to itself. If the answer is yes, then you should use a reflexive pronoun. If the answer is no, you should probably use a different pronoun (like me, him, I, it, etc.). Here’s a handy flowchart to help (click the image to open the full-size version):