Is “Myself” a Polite Way To Say “Me”?

By Maeve Maddox

background image

A reader commenting on “TV’s War on Me and I” asks,

Is it your opinion that when a speaker refers to him/herself as “myself” (instead of “I”) that it is an attempt to avoid sounding conceited?

Short answer: No.

Speakers of Irish English often use myself where standard usage calls for I or me and sound charming doing it, but standard English usage recognizes only two functions for the “self” pronouns, including myself: reflexive and intensive.

The reflexive use of myself
Few native speakers misuse myself when the word functions as a reflexive pronoun.

The word reflexive comes from a Latin verb meaning “to turn back or to bend back.” A reflexive pronoun “reflects” the subject of a sentence or clause. It functions as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition.

I cut myself.
Kendra believes in herself.
You must learn to control yourself.
The firemen pulled themselves up.

In each of these examples, the reflexive pronoun restates the subject.

The intensive use of myself
Few English-speakers have difficulty with the use of myself as an intensive pronoun.

An intensive pronoun “intensifies” or strengthens a noun or another pronoun. It may repeat the subject of the sentence, but it can also restate another noun or pronoun in the sentence.

I myself will speak to the king.
I demand to speak to the director herself.
Did you build those shelves yourself?

Our DWT reader is apparently not alone in having heard the idea that “myself” is somehow more modest usage than “me.” Bryan A. Garner (Garner’s Modern English Usage) has heard about it.

The word [myself] shouldn’t appear as a substitute for I or me . Using it that way, as an “untriggered reflexive,” is thought somehow to be modest, as if the reference were less direct. Yet it’s no less direct, and the user may unconsciously cause the reader or listener to assume an intended jocularity, or that the user is somewhat doltish.

The misuse of myself in the media
Professional writers and others who are expected to use language well have no excuse to misuse myself. In each of the following examples, the myself should be replaced with me.

That didn’t stop my fellow reporters and myself from intruding to ask questions.

This stuff is pure kibble to fans of lovingly-crafted trashy movies like myself.

He’s going to have the support of not only myself but the staff and the coaches.

Not a promising start for a technophobe like myself, but the boyfriend loved it.

I don’t think he will need myself or the manager to tell him that time has come.

And, whatever you do, don’t use myself as a subject!

Myself and my teammates took that franchise to places those fans had never seen.

My wife and myself have just returned from the Eurostar short break to Paris.

My best friend and myself wanted to join after high school from Junior ROTC, but I was six pounds overweight.

My brother and myself at the ages of 6 and 9 were sent to Boarding School at Ruthin.

Myself, Simon, my sister and the two boys head to my mum’s for the weekend.

Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!

Keep learning! Browse the Grammar category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:


2 Responses to “Is “Myself” a Polite Way To Say “Me”?”

  • Thebluebird

    Oh yes, Maeve, that email from my supervisor asking me to send my reply “to myself and the HR director” is high on the list of mistakes that grate on my sensitive tympanic membranes. Like “aks” instead of ask, Feb-yoo-erry, misCHEEVEE-ous, and all the extra WHOMs. The list goes on but I’ll stop here.

  • Steve

    As for “yourself” (not yourself):

    Steve: Hi, Honey, how are you?
    Honey: Fine, and yourself?

    Twenty-three years of marriage, and if that’s biggest peeve I have, we’re doing all right. Still, it gently grates.

Leave a comment: