• 3-minute read
  • 19th December 2015

Word Choice: Me, Myself and I

As well as proving a popular song title (see Billie Holiday, De La Soul and Beyoncé), the words ‘me’, ‘myself’ and ‘I’ are all singular first person pronouns that we use when referring to ourselves.

However, knowing which term fits in different cases can be tricky. Recently, for instance, there has been a trend of wrongly using ‘myself’ in place of ‘me’ or ‘I’ because it sounds more formal or polite. In this post, we set out why this is wrong and how to avoid making mistakes.

I and Me (Subject and Object)

With ‘I’ and ‘me’, ‘I’ should be used when the speaker/writer is the subject of the sentence and ‘me’ is used when they are the object of the sentence.

The subject of a sentence is the entity in the sentence that acts, while the object is the thing acted upon. In the following sentence, the subject is ‘the woman’ and the object is ‘the ball’:

The woman kicked the ball.

Let’s try placing the first person pronoun in this sentence. When used as the subject, the first person is active:

I kicked the ball.

When the first person is the object, they are being acted upon:

The woman kicked me.

If used the other way around, the sentence wouldn’t make sense:

Me kicked the ball.

The woman kicked I.

Remembering the subject/object distinction makes it easy to know which term to use.

Myself (Reflexivity and Emphasis)

There are two main scenarios in which ‘myself’ can be used: when referring back to oneself reflexively, or to add emphasis to something.

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Reflexive uses of ‘myself’ occur when referring back to the subject of the sentence (i.e., ‘I’) as an object:

I can see myself in the mirror.

When used for emphasis, ‘myself’ is an intensifier, usually reiterating one’s involvement in something:

Isn’t the food tasty? I cooked it myself!

Here, the speaker could just say ‘I cooked it’, but adding ‘myself’ emphasises their agency, implying they’re proud of their culinary nous.

How Not to Use Myself

What ‘myself’ isn’t is a word that can simply replace ‘me’ or ‘I’ in any sentence. This seems to be a particular problem when a sentence mentions more than one person. Many people, for example, will say something along the lines of:

George and myself are going to the game.

If you hear anything, let George and myself know.

In both cases, using ‘myself’ is wrong, since it is used in place of the subject in the first example (‘George and I are going…’) and the object in the second (‘…let George and me know’).

The best way to check whether you’re using ‘myself’ correctly is to remove the other people from the sentence and see how it sounds:

Myself is going to the game.

If you hear anything, let myself know.

In these amended sentences, the word ‘myself’ is obviously out of place, making it easier to see which term you should use in its place.

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