The Grammarphobia Blog

Is selflessness the objective?

Q: The proliferation of reflexive pronouns demands that we address “me” versus “myself” again! You’ve discussed this on the blog, but I’m still confused. You say there are only two reasons to use a “self” word: (1) For emphasis. (“I made it myself”) or (2) To refer back to the subject. (“He beats up on himself.”) What about if the subject is a group of which the pronoun is a member? For example: “Serious gardeners like me/myself use organic fertilizer.” Myself is confused.

A: The sentence you mention should properly read: “Serious gardeners like me use organic fertilizer.” But “like myself” is not a hanging offense, as I’ll explain later.

The subject of the sentence is “gardeners.” And the pronoun “me” is the object of the preposition “like.” Any pronoun in that position is in the objective (or accusative) case: “me,” “us,” and so on.

The fact that the husband is by implication one of the “gardeners” makes no difference grammatically. As I said before, “me” is the object of a preposition; it’s not referring back to the subject.

As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to use “myself” and the other “self” words (“herself,” “themselves,” etc.) to replace ordinary pronouns like “I” or “me,” “she” or “her,” “they” or “them,” “he” or “him,” and so on.

However, as I’ve written elsewhere, writers often use “myself” or “himself” or “herself” deep into a sentence when the ordinary pronoun would almost seem to get lost.

And similarly, it’s not a grammatical crime to use “myself” to add a specific reference to a more general subject, as in “Avid golfers like myself …” or “Dyslexic readers like myself …”  or “Cranky grammar mavens like ourselves. …”

But except in cases like those, here’s a good rule to keep in mind: If you can legitimately use “I” or “me” instead of “myself,” then do so. It’s usually better English.

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