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It’s All About Myself

Are some people in your organization still confused about when to use the reflexive? Let me explain it.

It's All About Myself
Reflexive pronouns have many forms - myself, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, themselves - but the one that causes the most confusion in everyday speech is "myself." 

Not long ago, a business person closed his email to me by saying, "If you have any questions, please contact myself," which probably sounds wrong to just about everyone. But I also hear somewhat more plausible sentences like, "Sean and myself attended the meeting," and "He gave it to Brenda and myself."

People Are Afraid to Make Mistakes
If you constantly see or hear sentences like the ones above, you may be tempted to use them yourself. Bad writing is contagious.

Others realize that they're not always sure when to say "I" and when to say "me," so they compromise by using "myself," which is always right, isn't it? They don't want to look bad if they accidentally say, "He gave it to Brenda and I," instead of the correct "He gave it to Brenda and me."

"I" Performs the Action and "Me" Receives It
When you are performing an action, refer to yourself as "I." You're always going to say, "I went to the meeting." But it's trickier when you're referring to someone else at the same time, and we've all heard sentences like, "Bob and me went to the meeting."

Despite your not having gone alone, you're still performing an action, so you should use "I." If all else fails, you can always resort to "We went to the meeting."

When you are receiving the action, use "me." You would always say, "He told me I had to do better." Once again, it's trickier if you're also referring to someone else, but you would still say, "He told Joe and me we had to do better." Whether Joe is there or not, you're still receiving the action. The same is true for "He gave it to Brenda and me."

Sometimes "Myself" Is the Right Choice
You should use the reflexive, however, if you are both the actor and the receiver of the action, as in "I hurt myself," or "I bought it for myself."

You should also use it when you want to emphasize that you were the sole participant in the action, as in "I wrote it myself, or "I figured it out myself."

Correct Usage Increases Credibility and Saves Space
As a business writer, you always want to increase your credibility. One of the many ways of doing that is to use correct grammar. In ordinary usage, you should not obsess about the fine points of grammar, but you should at least get the basic stuff right.

An added advantage in the world of text messaging and Twitter is that "I" and "me" use fewer characters and are easier to type than "myself."

These two advantages may give people in your organization the incentive to try to remember the proper use of the reflexive.

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at http://www.holton.cc/archive.html.