Each week, our Australian Writers’ Centre Q&A chats about the quirks and anomalies of the English language. This week, when you should use ‘myself’ and when you shouldn’t…
Q: Happy Easter! I myself am very excited about it.
A: We can see that. You’ve even dressed up as the Easter Bunny!
Q: Absolutely. But, now a question.
A: We’re “all ears”…
Q: Hilarious. My question today comes from getting tired of seeing “myself” incorrectly used in place of “me” or “I”. Can you clear it up?
A: Ah, good one. Sure thing.
Q: Well hop to it then.
A: Nice. Let’s start with “subject pronouns” and “object pronouns” in a sentence. When we are referring to ourselves, the subject is “I” and the object is “me”. The subject does the stuff in a sentence and the object has the stuff done to it. So we’d say “I am eating this 2kg chocolate egg” or “This egg that you bought for me contains 32,000kJ”…
Q: Seems pretty straightforward.
A: We know, right? And to be fair, most people get that. The problem comes in situations where there are multiple subjects or objects. Suddenly people get an inferiority complex about the words “I” or “me” and think they’re not grand enough. You’ll see things like “For any queries, see Emily, Sam or myself” – which is wrong; it should’ve been “me”.
Q: That’s exactly what I said when George Clooney got married…
A: The same happens with “I”: “Emily, Sam and myself will be your guides for today” is wrong. It should be “Emily, Sam and I will be your guides for today”. The easy trick is to imagine the sentence with just you in it – take Emily and Sam out of the equation.
Q: I know a guy who can do that. He needs cash upfront though…
A: Doing this you will see straight away if it should be “me” or “I”. “Any queries, see me” and “I will be your guide for today”.
Q: But what happens if I clear out BOTH the subject and object and it’s just me left in the room?
A: Besides resembling a Quentin Tarantino film, that’s where “myself” comes into play. Just like “me”, “myself” operates as an object, and is known as a “reflexive pronoun”.
Q: A pronoun you can see in the dark! Very handy.
A: No, not reflective – reflexive. A reflexive pronoun replaces the object pronoun (“me” in this case). Other reflexive pronouns include himself, herself, yourself and itself.
Q: Like one big selfie stick.
A: Actually that’s a great way to think about it for this example – because reflexive pronouns ONLY kick in when the subject and the object relate to the SAME thing – “I” and “myself” in this case. You’re the only one in the room. So it’s like “I” am holding out the selfie stick and looking at a picture of “myself”.
Q: Crazy tourist. Any examples?
A: “I can really see myself writing a bestseller one day” or “I’m going to buy myself a vintage typewriter”. Note the link between “I/I’m” and “myself”. If the subject was someone else, you would have gone with “me”. (“He can really see me writing a bestseller” or “She’s going to buy me a vintage typewriter”.)
Q: Okay, but I’m sure I’ve seen “myself” used in other ways than just that.
A: True. It also gets wheeled out for extra impact or to intensify the subject pronoun. It’s known as an “intensive/emphatic pronoun” when this happens. A perfect example is in your very first line today.
Q: Hang on, just scrolling back up to check…
A: Got it?
Q: Nope, scrolled too far. Hang on… scrolling…down… Ah, okay, yep, I see.
A: You could have just said “I am excited about Easter” but the extra word added more impact. We also see it with a sentence like “I wrote this book myself”. Just helps to shine the spotlight on the subject of the sentence a little more.
Q: Final recap? But make it quick – this bunny suit is giving me a rash.
A: “I” is a subject pronoun. Both “me” and “myself” are types of object pronouns. You’d use “me” when the subject is someone or something else and “myself” when the subject is also you, or to add extra emphasis to show that it’s really really you.
Q: Great! Okay, I’m off to buy a selfie stick. And some carrots…