Reflections on the Reflexive: How (and How Not) to Use “Myself”

Dear Whole Wide English-Speaking World, It Seems: Here is a word usage tip that can help generate goodwill on our planet in a small way by eliminating my periodic urge to shake people violently by the lapels and scream, "Stop iiittttt!!! Aaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!" My tip is this: Don't say "myself" when you mean "I" or "me." "Myself" frequently gets used incorrectly when more than one person is doing something. For example:

Susie and myself went to the store.

Ugh! No, please--not "Susie and myself." I can feel my hand groping about instinctively for a lapel. When to Say "I" Let's leave Susie out of the picture and pretend you went to the store alone. What would you say? You wouldn't tell people, "Myself went to the store," would you? (Please say you wouldn't.) You also wouldn't say, "Me went to the store"—not unless you're Tonto talking to the Lone Ranger. What you would say is, "I went to the store." Use "I" when you're the one doing something (or, if you want to get technical, when you are the subject of the sentence)This holds true whether you're acting alone or with other people. With that principle in mind, now let's add Susie back into the mix:

Susie and I went to the store.

Magnifique! That's how it's done. Susie went to the store and I went to the store, so Susie and I went to the store. It's almost mathematical in its elegance. Here are a couple other examples:

Wrong: Myself, Josh, and Jessica were in the car.

Right: (Take away Jessica and Josh and you would say, "I was in the car." Now add Jessica and Josh back in, and use were instead of was for more than one person....)

Jessica, Josh, and I were in the car.* (Niiiice! Oh, you are smooth!)

Wrong: After running five miles, myself and Steve grabbed a bite to eat.

Right: After running five miles, Steve and I grabbed a bite to eat.

When to Say "Me" That was easy enough, wasn't it. But what about when you're not the one who's doing something? What about when you're the one to whom something is being done?

Cackling evilly, the mad professor locked myself and Pete in the dungeon.

Really, old bean, you're making way too much work for yourself. What's wrong with plain old, simple "me"?

Cackling evilly, the mad professor locked Pete and me in the dungeon.

See? Much better. Use "me" when you're not the doer but the done-to, the object toward whom action is targeted, whether directly or less directly. Let's say that Jennifer ran frantically toward you and Aaron. Jennifer was the one who did something--she ran--while you and Aaron were, in a sense, the recipients of her action. So what would you say?

Jennifer ran frantically toward Aaron and myself.

Bzzzztttt! Sorry, wrong answer. Contestant Number Two, what's your response?

Jennifer ran frantically toward Aaron and me.

Dingdingding! Congratulations! You've scored the daily double. Once again, you can determine the correct word by simply removing Aaron from the picture, thus: "Jennifer ran frantically toward me." The way you would say the sentence without Aaraon in it is also the way you would say the sentence with Aaron in it, along with as many walk-ins as you please:

Jennifer ran frantically toward Aaron, Ashley, Ashley's Aunt Susan and her pet monkey, a bald priest doing handstands on his skateboard, and me.

How to Use "Myself" Normally, "myself" requires that you first use "I" in a sentence. You can use "myself"two ways: 1. Directly after "I" to emphasize your sense of identity:

I myself would love to go.

Losing my job was something I myself constantly feared.

    Or, infrequently, for emphasis after "me":

As for me myself, I'm content to sleep on the floor.

2. In a sentence wherein you are both the subject and the object--that is, you are doing something to yourself:

How could I hoard such a windfall all to myself?

Receiving the award was an honor I had never envisioned for myself.

So When Can You Substitute "Myself" for "Me"? Never. I know you see it done all the time in both informal and formal communications, from Facebook comments to business letters, wherein people want to appear savvy and sophisticated (e.g., "Please direct future correspondence directly to myself"). But there's nothing impressive about improper usage. Just say "me." Particularly when I'm around. Your lapel will last a lot longer that way, and the world will be a gentler, more harmonious place, at least in our vicinity. _____________ * Note that in the correct examples shown above, "I" and "me" appear after references to other persons. It is normally good form to put others before yourself. After all, which sounds better: "Me'n Sam was attending etiquette class" or "Sam and me was attending ettiquette class"? Right, they both sound horrible. But "Sam and me" is nicer.** ** Though still wrong. Correct: "Sam and I were attending . . ." It's a compound subject. But that's a whole other topic. Don't let me get started.    

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