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.]

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Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.