Communication Skills

JS Tip 101: From the Writing Workshops: Reflexive Pronouns

We explored this topic two years ago. Readers have recently asked about the topic, so we’ll return to the discussion.

Pronouns (I, you, we, etc.) are substitutes. They fill in for other words. The words they fill in for are their antecedents

This tip deals with reflexive pronouns.

Reflexive pronouns end in -self (singular) or -selves (plural) and refer back to—reflect—their antecedents.

For example: “I could've kicked myself for breaking the museum’s Ming vase.”

“Myself” refers—reflects—back to “I,” so it’s an appropriate use of a reflexive pronoun.

For example: “Call Kathy or myself at 888 305 1155.”

An inappropriate use. Why?

Because “myself” becomes a person without a country, a reflexive pronoun without a reflected antecedent. “Me” would be correct: “Call Kathy or me at 888 305 1155.”

“We did it ourselves” is correct because “ourselves” refers back to “we.”

“Ourselves did it” is wrong—woefully wrong—because “Ourselves” has no antecedent to refer back to. 

In one of the Austin Powers movies, Powers enters a room and announces, “Allow myself to introduce . . . myself.” Myself. Myself.

The line gets a laugh because Powers, with all his bravado, misuses a reflexive pronoun and sounds like a doof. (He should have said, “Allow me to introduce myself.”)

We’re grateful to Brian Bub for suggesting the original tip. We’re grateful to Nirav Jobanputra for suggesting the revisit.

If you have questions, let us know. We love this stuff.

We’ll continue this discussion next week.