The Grammarphobia Blog

Self improvement

[Note: An updated post about “myself” and other “-self” words appeared on Aug. 27, 2018.]

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: You may be noticing this usage more these days, but my guess is that it’s no more frequent now than it was in the past. You’re simply more conscious of it.

The sentence is not grammatically incorrect, though a traditionalist would argue that it should read, “John invited my mother and me.” And I would agree that “me” is preferable. But the use of a reflexive pronoun (a “self” word) instead of a simple object pronoun (“me”) in a sentence like that is more an issue of style than of grammar. 

However, the reflexive there could be a sign that the speaker is insecure. My suspicion is that many people fall back on “myself” because they’re not sure what the usual pronoun would be. Faced with the choice of “I” or “me,” they wimp out and pick “myself.”

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

As a general rule, it’s unnecessary to use “myself” and the other “self” words (“herself,” “themselves,” etc.) in place of 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.

There are two principal reasons reasons for using a reflexive pronoun in ordinary usage:

(1) For emphasis: “We built it ourselves” … “She admitted it herself” … “I baked the cake myself.”

(2) To refer to a subject already named: “He beats up on himself” … “I cut myself” … “She needs to remind herself.”

In addition, people often use “myself” or “himself” or “herself” deep into a sentence when the ordinary pronoun would seem to get lost.

Those are the main uses of reflexives. But to use them in other way isn’t wrong—just perhaps stylistically weak.

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