Everyone, at some point, uses two particular pronoun types without really thinking of it. But they also misuse a specific pronoun associated with them.
You may have heard of the intensive and reflexive pronoun types even if you can’t easily define them offhand.
From time to time, I think it’s helpful to go back to the grammar basics to review how language is meant to be used. This week, we’ll look at two popular kinds of pronouns.
We’ll also see how they can cause a bit of confusion.
These pronouns, in a way, act as a mirror of sorts. They reflect the subject of the sentence, but they do so in different ways.
Intensive pronouns add emphasis to the subject of the sentence. But in these uses, the sentence could still stand on its own without the extra pronoun.
Here’s an example:
I myself finished the project last night.
If you remove myself, the sentence is clear enough. But adding that pronoun adds intensity to the subject.
Jeff told them himself that he didn’t use the car.
In this sentence, it stresses that point that Jeff is the one who gave the information. The them, whoever they are, heard that detail about Jeff from Jeff.
While intensive pronouns can be removed and still have the sentence make sense, the other kind of pronoun we’re talking about cannot.
Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence. As such, they demonstrate that the subject of the sentence either takes action or receives action that impacts the subject rather than someone else.
Here’s an example:
Lisa gave herself the day off before the big meeting.
Lisa is the subject of the sentence. But herself is a pronoun that modifies Lisa, so she becomes both the subject and object of the sentence. It would be awkward to use the name Lisa both times. And it could be confusing to use the pronoun her since that could refer to anyone.
But when you use herself as a reflexive pronoun, the meaning becomes suddenly clear.
Here’s another example:
The dog entertained itself for hours with the toy.
Okay, animal lovers: Don’t get upset over the use of itself. I could just as easily have used himself or herself, though animals tend to receive it pronouns. Still, the sentence follows the same format: itself refers to the subject of the sentence, dog.
The ‘Myself’ problem
To use myself correctly, it needs to fall under the intensive or reflexive pronoun use.
Too often, I’ll hear someone construct a sentence like this:
Return the book to
myselfwhen you’re finished with it.
No. No, no, no!
The sentence should have read, “Return the book to me when you’re finished with it.”
Some people seem to think that myself seems more formal than just that simple little old me. I guess that’s a fair assumption if you’re talking about people who don’t know how to correctly use myself. To those people, maybe it does sound “more formal.”
But I can assure you that to the rest of us, it’s like fingernails scraping their way down a chalkboard. Those of us who know better aren’t fooled for a second. And try though we might to avoid doing so, we can’t help but judge you unfavorably for making what should be a clear mistake.
The pronoun myself can only be used correctly as a reflexive or intensive pronoun. Don’t try to use it any other way.
So now you know how to handle these two pronoun types and how to avoid the misuse of myself!
There’s nothing like killing two birds with one stone!