Submitted by helenhi on December 28, 2009

me vs. myself

In the following sentence, would “me” or “myself” be correct and why?

Serious gardeners like my wife and me/myself always use organic fertilizer.

Since the person talking is also a gardener and has referred to himself once already in the sentence as being in the group serious gardeners (”we gardeners”), it seems as if he should use “myself” in the reflexive. Yet this sounds wrong.

Please help! The horrid trend of using “myself” in place of “me” is starting to wear me down and confuse me.


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The speaker hasn't actually referred to himself with the word "gardener," rather to gardeners in general, so the reflexive pronoun "myself" would be incorrect. Use the object pronoun "me."

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Douglas pretty much nailed it. The reflexive "myself" is almost always incorrect, unless it is preceded somewhere in the sentence by the objective "me."

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A reflexive is usually used as an object pronoun, when the subject is performing an action, and the object of that action is the subject. For example:

<i>I cut someone with a kitchen knife.
The person I cut was me.</i>
<b>I cut myself.</b>

Another option is as an adverb, when the speaker does something that he or she would normally have someone else do.

<b>I fixed my car myself</b> <i>(rather than have a mechanic do it).</i>

In the OP's original example sentence, there are three reasons why the reflexive is incorrect:

<i>"Serious gardeners like my wife and me/myself always use organic fertilizer."</i>

The first is that you're using an object pronoun where you should be using a subject - "My wife and I" - which makes the whole reflexives point moot. A reflexive can only be used as an object pronoun or as an adverb, not as a subject.

The second is that the speaker is not the object of the verb "use" - therefore, the reflexive object pronoun is unnecessary.

Third is that there's no implication that the speaker and his wife are doing something that a serious gardener would normally have someone else do, i.e. fertilize their garden. Therefore the reflexive adverb is unnecessary. What's more, there's no verb that "myself" could modify in this sentence.

To sum up, never use a reflexive as a subject, and never use a reflexive as an object if someone other than the speaker is performing the action. I used to have a boss (in an ESL school, no less) who would write memos that read, "Please return this form to the secretary <i>or myself</i>...." and I'd have to go sit in a dark room for a few hours with a cold compress. *smile*

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Douglas, Steve, and Chris,
Thank you ever so much for the helpful responses. I could swear that the increasing popularity of migraine-inducing expressions such as the one Chris mentioned, "Please return this form to the secretary or myself" is responsible for my oblivion. "Theirselves" are at fault! :-)
Myself is signing off,
Helen :-)

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The pronoun "me" would not be grammatically appropriate in this instance, as its referent would in a subjective position which would demand the subjective form. "Myself" may work because its referent has already been mentioned in discourse, under the umbrella of gardeners.

My-, hi-, herself and the like are not necessarily the reflexive pronoun. They may also fall into the intensive pronouns, which may be used in any part of a sentence, either objective or subjective. I would in this case take issue with the use of "myself" in the sentence "I fixed the car myself," to be adverbial. It is intensive, and as a pronoun, works as an appositive to the subject "I".

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There's certainly a case to be made for "myself" as an appositive in that example, but I think it's a weak one. It is, I believe, a superfluous modifier - if I fixed the car, after all, it could have been no one else, and so there's no reason to point out that it was "myself" - it's tautological. We should resolve to make sure we avoid superfluity and redundancy in our speech. *grin*

As an adverb, however, it describes how the fixing of the car was done, i.e. with no help from anyone else.

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Should be "Serious gardeners like my wife and I always use organic fertilizer."

The reason is that "I" is subjective, not objective. It looks like "serious gardeners like my wife and I" could be seen as the subject. If not, "Serious gardeners" is and "like my wife and I" is descriptive of "serious gardeners." In any case, "my wife and I" needs to be subjective like "serious gardeners." Therefore me and myself are incorrect. One could simplify the sentence to say, "Serious gardeners always use organic fertilizer." One could say "My wife and I always use organic fertilizer." "My wife and I" is subjective just as is "serious gardeners." One wouldn't say, "us always use organic fertilizer," and that is a good way to check the proper use of pronouns like I, me, etc.
People often have a problem with getting the subject, object correct in a sentence with pronouns, because of music, media and other people. Even those who should know better use it incorrectly.
An example would be, "Me and her went to the mall." "Me and her" are objective not subjective. One could substitute "us" for "me and her" and one would get "Us went to the mall." This is obviously incorrect. So it should be "we went to the mall," and "I and she," but maybe better, "She and I went to the mall." Hope this helps. Substitution of pronouns can be a good method to check if in doubt, as well as looking at what is subject and object.

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In the example sentence given by Helen Hi, the phrase "like my wife and me" is adjectival, and thus not appositive to the subject, which is "gardeners."

As for "I" versus "me," a simple way to look at the problem is to take "my wife" (please!) out of the sentence: "Serious gardeners like me always use organic fertilizer." It becomes clear that the pronoun "I" would be incorrect, since it is not the subject of the sentence but part of the adjectival phrase.

However, while the construction "someone and I" has been called a hypercorrection by some, it is to be found as far back as Shakespeare, and is not particularly objectionable.

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Thank you to everyone for the comprehensive treatment of my question. It’s more than I expected!

I’d like some clarification from DC or anyone who might elaborate on DC’s explanation. I think DC suggests testing the sentence by simplifying it to ascertain whether the objective or subjective pronoun fits. His shortened examples work well: “Serious gardeners use organic fertilizer or “My wife and I use organic fertilizer.” However, what if the husband/subject of the original sentence refers to himself only?:
“Serious gardeners like me/myself/I always use organic fertilizer.”

DC says that “Serious gardeners” is subjective, so “like me/myself/I” must be, also. He says “me/myself” are not subjective, so they’re wrong. If I delete “me/myself” and simplify the sentence per his suggestion, then I get the following:

“Serious gardeners always use organic fertilizer” or
“I always use organic fertilizer” … therefore …
“Serious gardeners like I always use organic fertilizer.” (This sounds odd.)

What have I done wrong here? Is “like I” correct here?


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There are both good and bad comments above. Chris, great description of when to use "myself", but you and several others have mistakenly suggested that "myself" is the subject of the sentence. It is not. "Gardeners" is the subject. "...Like... is a preposition and "...wife and me..." are the objects of the preposition. Of course, it should be "me", not "myself" and not "I". As Douglas suggested, simply take out "my wife" and it's obvious that " I..." is incorrect. Also, in “I fixed the car myself,” myself is not superfluous. It doesn't mean the same thing as simply "I fixed the car" at all. The latter simply states what I did. The former emphatically states who did it. E.g.:

"What did you do yesterday?"
"I fixed the car."
"Which mechanic did you use?"
"I fixed it myself."

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Porsche is correct: in the example sentence, "like" is used as a preposition. In my comment I referred to an "adjectival phrase," which is inaccurate; "like my wife and me" is a prepositional phrase. What I should have said is that the function of "like" is adjectival, as opposed to adverbial. That is why the old jingle "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" is ungrammatical. (It should be "as a cigarette should").

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I'll admit I was wrong with the case that should be used, as 'like' clearly is a preposition in this usage.

However, I do not see how 'myself' is a wrong word to use. As I think about it, the speaker of the sentence obviously counts himself amongst the number of gardeners, especially those who are serious (and all those who are Scotsmen) in the world, and could therefore use the reflexive as the object of this proposition. If we were to combine the speaker and his wife, would "Serious gardeners like us always use organic fertilizer," be any different from "Serious gardeners like ourselves always use organic fertilizer."?

I would argue that the use of either the reflexive or the objective pronoun would influence the tone of the sentence, and its connotative meaning.

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Theophilus Davenport says, "I would argue that the use of either the reflexive or the objective pronoun would influence the tone of the sentence, and its connotative meaning."

It is an interesting argument, that of connotation, and one not without merit. Bryan A. Garner, in "A Dictionary of Modern American Usage," addresses it:

"But "myself" shouldn't appear as a substitute for "I" or "me." Using it in that way is thought somehow to be modest, as if the reference were less direct. Yet it's no less direct..."

He goes on to say unkind things about people who do use it "that way." But while modesty may sometimes be the connotation desired, I don't think that from one pronoun we can assume our gardener is timorous.

Merriam-Webster's "Dictionary of English Usage" is more nuanced on the subject of using "myself" objectively, and they say this:

"Two general statements can be made about what these critics say concerning "myself": first, they do not like it, and second, they do not know why."

As always, they give copious examples of alleged abuse of "myself" by "poets, politicians, playwrights, novelists, essayists, diarists, statesmen, even lexicographers." They conclude, more or less, thus:

"Discourse analysis doesn't explain third person reflexives very well, but, in spite of what the critics may think, this use of the first and second person reflexives is a common and standard, though not mandatory, feature of the language."

Which means:

A: It's OK to say "my wife and myself" even though it's grammatically dodgy.

B: Grammar rules are like New York City stop lights: suggestions only.

C: The authors at Merriam-Webster are descriptivist pussies.

The last of which is fine by me; I find myself less prescriptivist with each passing day.

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I still take issue with the use of myself in the original sentence. In the fragment myself..., the pronoun "myself" is not reflexive. In order to be reflexive, it would have to be the object after the verb in the sentence. The subject, verb, and object of the sentence are "...gardeners...use...fertilizer", respectively. Again, "myself" is the preposition's object, part of a prepositional phrase,and really should be "me". Here are some simpler, more obvious examples:

"I pat myself (on the back)..."
"I kick myself (for being such a pedant)..."
"I watch myself (in the mirror)..."


"People like me (should make more money)..."

Notice, in the first three examples, they're reflexive, specifically because both the subject and the object are in the first person.

"I watch myself"


"I watch you."

"You watch yourself"

"you watch me."

"Gardeners" can only be reflexive with "themselves", not with "me".

"Like can only be followed by "myself" if it means "have affection for", as in:

"I like myself a lot." At the risk of beating a dead horse here, "I like you, you like me, I like myself, you like yourself, etc."

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Porsche: I don't disagree with you entirely. By the strict rules of English grammar "myself" may not be used in the sentence proffered by Helen Hi. (And Helen, if you are reading this, my first answer still stands.)

I wish I had the patience to quote completely Merriam-Webster's entry for "myself," but then the descriptivist cats thereat (that was my reference: cats) might take umbrage. Their point is that the use of "myself" as a substitute for "me," or even for "I," is centuries old. It predates the grammarians of the 18th and 19th century who deemed it improper, like so much else. Shakespeare himself used "myself" as a sentence subject: "Myself hath often overheard them say..." (Titus Andronicus). Of course, it may be argued that an old error is still an error. Feel free to take it up with the author.

At the risk of allegation of cherry-picking, let me quote M-W again:

"You will observe that almost all of the instances of first person and second person reflexive pronouns here occur in contexts where the speaker is referring to himself or herself or the listener or reader as a subject of the discourse, rather than as a participant in it."

Just so: "my wife and myself" – "my wife" and "my self." I think its appeal may be simply its parallelism: repeated syntactical similarities used for rhetorical effect. Plus which, "myself" is considered to somehow be humbler than "me." According to William Safire, "me" is a "harsh" word. Why this is so escapes me. But his argument – made by Garner too – is that "myself" is gentler, and therefore preferred by some. That it also superficially parallels "my wife" may account for its ubiquity, at least in casual usage.

So, Porsche, while I agree that the non-reflexive use of "myself" is technically ungrammatical, it is not so heinous as to beggar understanding; it is a usage well established in the ear, if not the in mother tongue. Or as the hep cats at Merriam-Webster put it, "...reasonable use of myself ought not to give you much trouble." Of course, they never met you, or for that matter, myself.

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I agree with Merriam-Webster’s “Dictionary of English Usage: "-self" pronouns without a same-clause antecedent are standard English. They're only "technically ungrammatical" if by "technically ungrammatical" we mean "people like Brian Garner don't like them."

There also seems to be the perception that "myself" as the object of a preposition is more upscale than "me":

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When Joe says: "Please call myself if you have any questions.", who is he talking to? himself?

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Douglas: In your Shakespeare quotation, couldn't that be taken as an example of poetic licence?

Another thought on the parallelism theme:
What about euphony, melody and balance? The example "my wife and myself" works because there are two syllables on either side of the "and", the stress is on "wife" and "self" (second syllable in each case), giving both people equal weight. "My wife and me", while correct, sounds lopsided. Funnily enough, when I tried turning this round, "my husband and myself" doesn't sound good - a clutter of syllables with the stress placed unequally on "hus" and "self" - whereas "my husband and me" sounds ok, because the three short syllables of "my husband" are balanced by the long "me".

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1. @Porsche ... Yu're absolutely right. The brooking of myself here is wrong, wrong, wrong! ... And ... It's wrong!

2. @Alice ... Yu too are right! Remember folks, the great Bard was a playwright! How many would hold up the grammar benoted in the scripts of today's movies as byspels of good grammar?

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very correct porsche.

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Goofy has nailed it: it's a style issue rather than a grammatical issue. Burchfield, writing in "The New Fowler's" quoted from a booklet he himself had written: "This booklet results from ... ( a study) undertaken by Professor Denis Donaghue, Mr Anthony Timothy and myself at the invitation of ..."

Some people might not like this usage, but that doesn't make it wrong. I dislike the way "awesome" is used nowadays, but I can't say it's wrong.

@porsche. If not Shakespeare, how about modern writers like Flann O'Brien, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and even E.B. White, who have all used "myself" in this way, according to the ever excellent MWDEU:

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@Warsaw Will ... I strongly disagree. This is very much a grammar issue. Moreover, it's not a minor grammar point like where does a comma belong or with preposition is better. This is a problem of fundamental pronoun usage.

Oddly, it is usually seen when folks are trying to be hyper-correct. In a casual talk, a person will normally use the correct pronoun. But put that person up on a stage or have someone write an email that is from "management", then suddenly the hyper-correctness kicks in.

As an aspiring author, I can say that my work of fiction is not 100% grammatically correct and that is often done on purpose. Still, many of my beta readers fail to catch some of the errors. We certainly wouldn't hold Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" up as a byspel of proper grammar. It's great literature, but it's not a great byspel of grammar.

I truly hope that you don't teach your ESL students that this is acceptable. I tutor a lot of outlanders and I put byspels like this (poor use of myself) before them as byspels of poor usage along it with "it don't", "you and me can write a bad romance" (a popular Lady Gaga song), and so forth as common mistakes. They should be aware of them, but NEVER use them.

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Although I agree that Shakespeare often uses myself etc incorrectly, I think in the example above it could (this would depend on the context - I haven't looked it up) be interpreted as an abbreviated form of I myself, but then the use of hath is strange. I always thought is was third person singular not first person.

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Would anyone care to offer an opinion on the following sentence, with which I am currently struggling?
"Making the trip for our company will be Don and myself."
Clearly turning that around and saying "Don and I will make the trip" is correct, but with the word order given, "I" at the end just seems stuffy.
Regarding the question in general, is there any allowance that English usage has been influenced over the years by French? "Ce sera moi" is good French.

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Like is a preposition, and by that logic, the pronoun should be in the objective case ("me") not the subjective case ("I").

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