Abusing ‘myself’: Understanding the first person singular

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by grammar guru Ivy Wigmore. 

Myself abuse is rampant online and nowhere more so than in business communications. My fond hope is that the following rant might shine a little light into the dark corners of the Internet and, perhaps, stop one person from saying myself when the right word is I or me.

As Dr. Grammar says, “In the old days when people studied traditional grammar, we could simply say, ‘The first person singular pronoun is I when it’s a subject and me when it’s an object,’ but now few people know what that means.” How true! How sad.

What you should make note of from that, whether or not you know the parts of a sentence, is that myself is NOT one of your options for the subject or object of a sentence (except in the case where the subject and object are the same individual — I’ll explain more about that later).

Here are some terribly typical examples of myself abuse:

CEO: “Both the CFO and myself are very pleased with the second quarter results.” Ugh.

When you’ve got a compound subject (more than one “doer” in a sentence), you can get an idea of how wrong myself is by taking the other person out of the equation. In this case, you’re left with: “Myself am very pleased with the second quarter results.” Now, what you have understand is that the first sentence sounds every bit as stupid as that one to people who have a grasp of this grammatical rule. And there could be some listening to you.

CEO: “The second quarter results delighted both the CFO and myself.” (Does “The second quarter results delighted myself” sound okay to you? I hope not.)

Let’s look at a couple more all-too typical examples of myself abuse:

Wrong: John or myself will be available for questions after the presentation. (Myself will be available for questions after the presentation.)

Right: John or I will be available for questions after the presentation. (I will be available for questions after the presentation.)

Wrong: Please call John or myself if you have any questions. (Please call myself if you have any questions.)

Right: Please call John or me if you have any questions. (Please call me if you have any questions.)

The most common correct use of the word myself is as a reflexive pronoun. (This is what I was talking about earlier.) That means that the subject and the object of the sentence are the same individual. Here’s an example of how that works in a sentence: I embarrass myself when I use the wrong word.

Only I can do anything to myself, grammatically speaking. Same thing for you and yourself, he and himself, she and herself. If, for example, anyone else is doing the calling in the above sentence, they have to call me – myself is not taking calls.

I, myself is a construction that some find objectionable but that is not strictly incorrect. It’s generally used to emphasize a personal preference or difference and to indicate that the preference or difference may vary from the norm.

Here’s an example:

“I, myself, would rather stick sharp objects in my eyes than hear the CEO refer to himself as ‘myself’ one more time.”

The issue with myself abuse may be mostly that people can’t stop and think which pronoun to use when they’re in the middle of speaking. However, even if you can’t quickly work it out, I suggest you choose either I or me and run with it because that will give you a 50-50 chance of being right. Don’t just default to myself — that will make you wrong 100 percent of the time.


Ivy Wigmore is Content Editor on WhatIs.com and chief grammar blogger on Writing for Business. You can follow her on Twitter @tao_of_grammar.


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