I heard Rosemary Clooney sing “By Myself” the other day. It’s a lovely song, and the lyricist, Howard Dietz, used “myself” correctly. (Sometimes being a copy editor makes listening to popular songs strange; you focus on the oddest things.) Here is one line from the song: “No one knows better than I myself, I’m by myself alone.” In that one line Dietz used a -self pronoun as an intensive (I myself) and as a reflexive (I’m by myself). Cool.
Unfortunately, the abuse of the -self pronouns has become rampant. This is mostly in speech and less often in writing, so we can give people the benefit of the doubt and believe that they know better but just misspoke or maybe mistyped in an e-mail message.
You hear someone at work say, for example, “If you have trouble with this procedure, please contact Caroline or myself.” Ugh. The correct pronoun is “me.” Or sometimes you hear this: “Jerry and myself invite all of you to the conference room for a presentation.” Double ugh. The pronoun we need here is “I.” Perhaps these folks are haunted by memories of being corrected by their mother or their third-grade teacher for using “me” when they should have used “I,” so they gave up and turned (wrongly) to “myself.”
If the pronoun is used as the subject of the sentence, use these pronouns: I, you, he/she, we or they. Susie and I went to the mall. If the pronoun is the object of a verb or a preposition, use these pronouns: me, you, him/her, us or them. If you need help, please call Tim or me.
-Self pronouns are used to reflect back to a noun used earlier in the sentence: The general went to the battlefield to see the damage for himself. They are also used to intensify: No one knows better than the general himself what a terrible thing war is.
This academic Web site has a good overall explanation of pronouns. Scroll down to “Intensive Pronouns” and “Reflexive Pronouns.”
This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.