Pronoun Mistakes #2: Reflexive and Intensive Forms

By Maeve Maddox

A pronoun that ends in -self or -selves is either reflexive or intensive.

Reflexive pronouns function as objects, either the direct object of a verb or the object of a preposition:

The cat covered itself with the blanket. (direct object of covered) Cat is the referent.

The greedy child kept all the cookies for himself. (object of the preposition for) Child is the referent.

Intensive pronouns intensify or emphasize a noun or another pronoun:

The owner himself washed the front steps.

I will deliver the message to Garcia myself.

Both reflexive and intensive pronouns refer to a noun or pronoun that precedes it in the same clause.

A common error is to use a reflexive or intensive pronoun in the place of an ordinary personal pronoun like I, me, he or him.

Incorrect: On Wednesday 11 July, the other teachers and myself will be singing this song. 
Correct : On Wednesday 11 July, the other teachers and I will be singing this song.

The pronoun is part of a compound subject: “the other teachers and I.” The subject pronoun is I.

Incorrect: All interpersonal transactions between the clients and myself will be non-exploitative and appropriate to their care. 
Correct : All interpersonal transactions between the clients and me will be non-exploitative and appropriate to their care. 

The pronoun is part of the compound object of a preposition: “between the clients and me.” The object form me is required.

Incorrect: Only the coaches and yourself will see these; they are completely confidential.
Correct : Only the coaches and you will see these; they are completely confidential.

The pronoun is part of the compound subject of the verb: “the coaches and you. The subject form you is required.

Sometimes an intensive pronoun will be a more effective stylistic choice, even when an ordinary personal pronoun would suffice.

In this passage from Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming is comparing his lapse of courage to that of other soldiers:

He remembered how some of the men had run from the battle. As he recalled their terror-struck faces he felt a scorn for them. They had surely been more fleet and more wild than was absolutely necessary. They were weak mortals. As for himself, he had fled with discretion and dignity.

The final sentence could be edited to read, “As for him, he had fled with discretion and dignity.” But in the context, himself conveys self-justification that him would not.

Bottom line
Reflexive and intensive forms have specific functions. Use them judiciously. The most common misuse of the self- pronouns occurs with compound subjects and objects.

Related posts:
Pronoun Review: Reflexive Pronouns
Pronoun Use Is Not Rocket Science
Me, Myself, and I

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2 Responses to “Pronoun Mistakes #2: Reflexive and Intensive Forms”

  • thebluebird11

    Definitely one of my pet peeves, heard all the time in the course of my work. “The patient was taken to the operating room by myself….” UGH!! Passive voice bad enough, compounded by this annoying “myself” thing. Why can’t they just say “I took the patient to the operating room”?

  • Nancy R.

    Chiming in a few days late…
    The misuse of reflexive pronouns is probably my most abhorred grammar error. It seems to be mushrooming.
    One example I’ve heard recently on television is particularly annoying because it is scripted. This is spoken by a retired USN rear admiral (in a commercial) in a long sentence that ends “…there are so many of you who have served your country honorably, whether it is two years, or four years, or 32 years, like myself.” Aagh!

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