Grammar Tips for Authors on Reflexive Pronouns

The Grammar Patrol

We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest of Us All?

grammar for authors

“Mirror, mirror, on the Wall, who is the fairest of us all?” the Evil Queen intones. When the mirror gives the wrong answer, the Evil Queen intervenes and shouts, “Myself!”  Even queens make grammar mistakes.

The high hopes Snow White’s Evil Queen had for her mirror didn’t turn out so well. But that’s another story.

Mirrors reflect images. Some days we look in the mirror and say, “EEEK!” Other days, we say, “Good enough!” Like mirrors, certain pronouns reflect or refer back to a noun or pronoun that appears earlier in a sentence. In Grammarspeak, such pronouns are called reflexive pronouns. The “-self” or “-selves” endings tip you off to the reflexives

Unless there’s a noun or pronoun to refer back to, don’t use a “self”-ending pronoun. So when the flight attendant says, “Hand your boarding passes to myself,” what he should say is, “Hand your boarding passes to ME.” Why? Because “me” is the object of the verb “hand.”

Person Singular Plural
First myself ourselves
Second yourself yourselves
Third himself, herself, itself
(never hisself)
(never themself or theirselves)


Thumbs Up from the Grammar Patrol:

In these sentences, the reflexive pronouns (in blue) come after a noun or pronoun they refer to.

I made the bread myself.

John used his camera’s timer to photograph himself.

The team baked the triple chocolate brownies themselves

Thumbs Down from the Grammar Patrol:                                         Should be:

Avery and myself are in charge of the Chili Cook-Off.                    Avery and I . . .

If you’re coming to the party, let Troy or myself know.                   . . . let me know.

You can also use self-ending pronouns to emphasize, to make a point:

Prince William himself makes the popcorn for Princess Kate on their movie nights.

Phaedra herself has made that same culinary blunder.

But not:

Bipsy and myself are in charge of the refreshments for the Toilet Bowl Tailgate party. (should be I)

Return your music to the conductor or myself. (should be me)

So what’s the key?

Check for a noun or pronoun earlier in the sentence that the reflexive pronoun refers back to.

Now, aren’t you proud of yourself?

Do you have any grammar pet peeves? Please share.


One Response to “Grammar Tips for Authors on Reflexive Pronouns”

  1. Edith Says:

    I have to add the most egregious reflexive bloopers I ever heard:
    The first, a boarding call at Gate 25 when the attendant announced, “Hand your tickets to myself.” Arggghh. Send a shudder down my traveling spine.
    The second when, during jury duty, the judge said, “If you overhear things you shouldn’t while in the courthouse, report to the bailiff or myself.” Double arggghh.

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