The Language Perfectionist: Me, Myself, and I

Usage experts agree that the pronoun “myself” has only two proper uses: the intensive and the reflexive.

“I’ll do it myself” uses the word as an intensifier, to convey emphasis. “I see myself as a leader” is reflexive – with the action referring to the subject.

Thus, avoid using “myself” where “I” or “me” is appropriate and grammatical. Example: Say “My family and I are glad to be here,” not “My family and myself…”

Observes Bryan A. Garner: “Using [myself] that way… is thought somehow to be modest, as if the reference were less direct. Yet it’s no less direct, and the user may unconsciously cause the reader or listener to assume an unintended jocularity, or that the user is somewhat doltish.”

Often, the word can simply be eliminated: “I bought myself a new suit” is equally as clear as “I bought a new suit.”

The same rules apply to other pronouns: “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “themselves,” etc. Many dictionaries are permissive on this subject, but it’s usually wise to follow convention, especially in formal writing.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book recently published by AWAI that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Comment on this article

  • John F. Tashjian

    I just wanted to thank Mr. Hauptman for his 12/13/2008 article “The Language Perfectionist: Me, Myself and I”. As a part-time tutor in a local community college English Writing Lab., I occasionally come across student who misuse, after a fashion, certain English pronouns in their essays (though not the intensive/reflexive ones very much).

    I’ve also noticed, much to my chagrin, that the words “a”, “an” and “the” are now considered to be adjectives, rather than indefinite/definite articles. I’ve tried to get these students to see that if these three words can answer the questions “how many?” or “what kind?”, then they are adjectives; if they cannot, then they are not. If this is something on which Mr. Hauptman cares to write, then he has my blessings.

    Thankfully Yours,
    John F. Tashjian