Me, Myself and I Redux

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T-shirtAt Collingwood Council meetings, you will always hear someone say “Moved by myself…” when presenting a motion at the table.*

Argh! Where did these people go to school? Clearly our education system has failed us if people were raised to say that. And this is in the public record, too.

To me it’s like nails on a blackboard. It’s like saying “I seen…” and “yous.”

The grammatically correct way to present a motion is, of course, to say, “Moved by me…”

So why the mistake we so frequently hear at the table – and in fact in many other councils across the province?

Common misunderstanding and discomfort, it appears are the cause, at least according to the grammar sites I read.

People often (and incorrectly) think “me” is incorrect or even coarse (well, it is when you say something like “Me and my friends are going dancing” or “I got me a pickup truck…”). But this is misplaced.

That unnecessary caution is why some people will say things like “It is I” or “It’s for my wife and I” when they really should say “It is me” and “It’s for my wife and me.” And say “between you and I…” when they mean (or should say) “between you and me…”

Grammar cafe“I” is the subjective pronoun, not the objective one. That’s “me.” Saying ‘me’ is fine when it’s the object of a sentence or in a phrase like, “Moved by me…”

So what about myself? That’s called a reflexive pronoun and to be used properly, it needs a reference back to the speaker (reflect = reflexive) – i.e. a use of the subjective pronoun.

For example, when someone says “I made it myself”  he or she is being grammatically correct. “Myself” reflects back to the subject, “I.” When they say “It was made by myself” they are incorrect and should say “It was made by me.”

Same with “Please contact me” – correct. “Please contact myself” – incorrect. Why? because in the latter sentence, “myself” has nothing to reflect.

Reflexive pronouns are always the object of a sentence, never the subject. So “Bill and I played ukulele last night” is correct. “Bill and myself played ukulele…” isn’t because “myself” cannot act as a subject. Just like you would never say “Bill and me played ukulele…” or use the pronoun by itself: “Myself played the ukulele…”

A reflexive pronoun can be the direct object of a transitive verb. For example: “I cut myself with a knife” and “I am teaching myself Latin.” Note in both cases, the subject is “I” which remains in the sentence. If you say “Cut myself with a knife,” the “I” is understood. But you can’t say “Myself cut me” or “Me cut myself…”

A reflexive can be an indirect object too, when the indirect object is the same as the subject of the verb:

  • Would you like to pour yourself a drink.
  • We’ve brought ourselves something to eat.

But note that to be used properly, that reflexive pronoun in “I cut myself…” needs the subject “I” (or “he”) in the sentence in order to do the job of reflecting. And in the latter examples, there is a you or we to reflect upon. Yes, you can say “Pour yourself a drink” because in that command, the “you” (or “you can”) is understood. See the imperative case, below.

You wouldn’t write “Dined by myself at the local pub..” or “Had dinner by himself in the gloomy hall…” You’d always want to add the subjective pronoun in there, first: “I dined by myself at the local pub…” and “He had dinner by himself in the gloomy hall…”

You can say “I hit myself in the head” but not “Hit by myself in the head.” At least in proper or formal writing you wouldn’t.

The phrase “by myself” actually means “alone.” Sentences like “I went out to dinner by myself” and “He dined by himself” are equivalent to “I dined alone” and “He dined alone.” So “Moved by myself…” is equivalent to “Moved alone…” Not much sense in that, since a motion always requires a seconder.

And no, the I in this case is not understood, because then the sentence would be “I moved by myself…” which again has no logic within the context of making a motion at the table. Unless the speaker means his bowel movement…

As The Grammar Girl notes, the reflexive has another use: intensive pronouns to add emphasis to a sentence:

Reflexive pronouns can also be used to add emphasis to a sentence. (In case you care, they are then called intensive pronouns.) For example, if you had witnessed a murder, you could say, “I myself saw the madman’s handiwork.” Sure, it’s a tad dramatic, but it’s grammatically correct. If you want to emphasize how proud you are of your new artwork, you could say, “I painted it myself.” Again, myself just adds emphasis. The meaning of the sentence doesn’t change if you take out the word myself; it just has a different feeling because now it lacks the added emphasis.

But note again that there is a subject in each of her examples for the myself to reflect upon.

Reflexive pronouns should only be used when the object of the action is the same as the subject. You can’t say “She wasn’t hurt, but myself was…” or “I was hurt in the accident, but herself wasn’t…” You can say, “I was hurt, myself, but she wasn’t…”

You don’t say “The ball hit myself…” but instead you can say “The ball hit me.” Another error: “Gail and myself are happy with the offer…” which should, of course, be “Gail and I…”

“I drove myself to the hospital” is correct. “Bob drove myself…” isn’t. Note that “I drove by myself…” is different from “I drove myself” because “by myself” indicates I drove alone.

Another example of correct use: “He introduced himself…” It has the subject he and the reflexive pronoun himself as the object. You wouldn’t say “Himself introduced him…”

This site gives this example of a somewhat more convoluted use: “Since the letter was addressed to myself, I opened it.” But you can still see the “I” in the sentence on which the reflexive “myself” acts.

And let’s confuse things a bit: when you use the imperative (command) form, the subject is often dropped, although it is understood (it is implied). For example, “Get yourself to work…” – the unspoken (implied) subject would be “You” as in “You get yourself to work.”

Another complexity: reflexive pronouns can also be called “intensive” – they intensify the subject to emphasize it or something about the subject. This site gives these examples (note the emphasized pronouns):

  • I made it myself. OR I myself made it.
  • Have you yourself seen it? OR Have you seen it yourself?
  • The President himself promised to stop the war.
  • She spoke to me herself. OR She herself spoke to me.
  • The exam itself wasn’t difficult, but exam room was horrible.
  • Never mind. We’ll do it ourselves.
  • You yourselves asked us to do it.
  • They recommend this book even though they themselves have never read it. OR They recommend this book even though they have never read it themselves.

The British Council site also notes where we do not use reflexive pronouns because they are acts we generally do alone:

We do not use a reflexive pronoun after verbs which describe things people usually do for themselves, such as wash, shave, dress:

  • He washed [himself] in cold water.
  • He always shaved [himself] before going out in the evening.
  • Michael dressed [himself] and got ready for the party.

It also notes another instance where reflexives are not used:

…we use personal pronouns, not reflexives, after prepositions of place…

  • He had a suitcase beside him.

and after with when it means “accompanied by”

  • She had a few friends with her.

However, you can say, at least colloquially, “I was beside myself with worry…” rather than “I was beside me with worry.” Although how one can be in two places at once is another discussion… (with appropriate reference, of course, to the Firesign Theater…)

As Slate Magazine points out, sometimes the reflexive myself means “my self” and has other uses aside from those mentioned here (although I don’t agree that proper use should be ignored just because some listeners might find it “stilted.” That’s akin to saying it’s okay to race on the highway because driving at the speed limit might seem pokey to some other drivers.)

References:

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* This post was originally published in early 2014, based on one written in 2009, but after watching some council meetings online recently, I felt it should be updated and presented again in the hope of correcting an egregious grammatical error in the public record. We may criticize our council, but we don’t want outsiders thinking they speak like hayseeds, do we?

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