Using the “Self” Pronouns Correctly

reflexive self pronouns American grammarUsing the “self” pronouns correctly can be tough! Those are the ones that end in “self” or “selves.”

Many speakers and writers use them everywhere, but these pronouns have a very limited grammatical purpose: They’re meant to be mirror image of the subject of the sentence or clause they’re in. And that’s it. Nothing else.

Sara Rosinsky posted an excellent reminder this morning about using I and  myself; I’m going to expand on it just a little.

Self pronouns may only be used when they refer back to a previously mentioned noun, the subject of a sentence or clause, who MUST be the same person. It’s like looking in a mirror: The pronoun has to reflect the image of the original subject.

These pronouns are called reflexive pronouns, when used this way;  they’re also called intensive or emphatic pronouns with a slightly different usage (see examples way down below), but they still follow the basic rule.

Used as a reflexive pronoun:

Mirror Image self pronouns

YES: I sang to myself while I was cooking. (I and myself are the same person.)

NO: John sang to myself while we were cooking. (John and myself are NOT the same person.)

YES: John sang to me while we were cooking.

YES: John sang to himself while we were cooking. (John and himself are the same person.)

YES: John sang to him while we were cooking. (John sang to another male, not himself.)

YES: As I was cooking dinner, John quietly sang to himself.

YES: As I was cooking dinner, John quietly sang to him (another male).

Used as an intensive (emphatic) pronoun:

YES: I myself heard John say that! (Again, I and myself are the same person.)

YES: Sara herself created that post this morning on using I and myself.

Oh, and the self pronoun can never, never, EVER be the first word or the subject in a sentence.

NO: Myself and John …

NO: John and myself …

YES: John and I …

BONUS: These words do NOT exist (even most spellcheck programs know this): hisself, ourself, ourselfs, theirself, theirselfs, themself, themselfs, her’s, him’s, his’s, our’s, their’s, your’s.

I sure hope this helps!