The Grammarphobia Blog

Self improvement

Q: I’d like to know if using the reflexive pronoun in the following sentence is correct: “John invited my mother and myself.” If not, is it my imagination, or are more people using reflexive pronouns incorrectly more often now than before?

A: Your instincts are right. The example you sent should read: “John invited my mother and me.” And, no, it’s not your imagination. The overuse of “myself” is reaching epidemic proportions these days because people have forgotten how to use “I” and “me.” Faced with the choice of “I” or “me,” they wimp out and pick “myself.”

I answered a similar question on The Grammarphobia Blog last summer about “self” words (that is, reflexive pronouns), but I think it’s time for a repeat performance.

As a general rule, “myself” and the other “self” words (“herself,” “themselves,” etc.) should not be used to replace ordinary pronouns like “I” or “me,” “she” or “her,” “they” or “them,” “he” or “him,” and so on. A good rule to follow is that if you can substitute an ordinary pronoun, don’t use a reflexive pronoun.

There are only two legitimate reasons for resorting to a “self” word:

(1) For emphasis. (“I made it myself.”)

(2) To refer to a subject already named. (“He beats up on himself.”)

That said, people often use “myself” or “himself” or “herself” deep into a sentence when the ordinary pronoun would seem to get lost. I wouldn’t call such a usage a misuse, or a grammatical error—just perhaps a stylistic issue.

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