Reflecting on the Reflexive

You, my reader, are very lucky to find out what one of my biggest pet peeves is: The misuse of the reflexive.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, reflexive means “directed or turned back on itself”; in the case of grammar, it relates to an action “directed back on the agent or the grammatical subject.”

He [subject] hurt himself [reflexive pronoun] when he fell down. 

Reflexive pronouns include myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves. 

Here are three so-called words you should never utter in my presence:

1. ourself
2. theirself
3. theirselves

I thank you in advance.

If you say a sentence like “Please give the letter to John or myself,” do yourself a favor and remember that someone else is giving you the letter to John or to you: You are not giving the letter to yourself, which is why the reflexive isn’t used here — besides the fact that it should read “Please give the letter to John or me” since to me is a prepositional phrase, and me is the object of the preposition. Leave John or out of the sentence, and read it: Please give the letter to me.

Object pronouns include me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them. Dr. Phil often commits serious grammar crimes: “You gotta get right with you!” he often says. Not only should yourself replace you, but the entire sentence defaces our beautiful English language. 

Please study these reflexive-pronoun sentences for next time:

I drove myself around Austin.
He asked himself why he was at the party.
She gave herself a manicure.

Reflexives can also be used as intensifiers (i.e., words used for emphasis):

I wrote this gripping grammar guide myself.

If I were with you and you used the reflexive correctly, I’d thank you myself.


My English Quarters
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English Literature