Research: MLP: Reflexive pronoun, spare thyself

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Editor’s note: While Sholeh is recovering from a broken wrist, we revisit some of her favorite Mrs. Language Person columns.

Please, oh please Dear Reader, practice pretention prevention. You know the type: The snooty-tootys (please pardon Mrs. Language Person; she did not mean to be crass) and hoity-toitys who like to emphasize value via pronoun. “I myself would like …” or “As for himself, he went …”

Or the worst (MLP can hardly force herself to type this terrible trifecta): “His own self.”

To whom else would his self belong? Can one have a self he doesn’t own? If a self can be borrowed perhaps that’s good news; MLP would like to return hers and try another for a change of pace.

A little extra and unnecessary (notice that redundancy, Dear Reader? Bravo!) is the added “self” to these pronouns, when a solitary and simpler pronoun (I, me, him, he, her she, they, them, we, us) will do. That said, reflexive pronouns (objective pronoun + self) do have their proper use.

Used wisely a reflexive pronoun reflects back to someone or something preceding it in the sentence:

“I said I’d do it myself.”

I might have said she’d do it, or that I’d do it with her or for them. In this sentence “myself” adds information. Even if “I said I’d do it” would do it, emphasis to correct or better communicate performs a useful function. Note “myself” relates back to “I” — with information between the two pronouns to which it can, well, relate back.

A better example is “You must ask yourself which is the best option.”

Now you might have asked Devin or Sean, perhaps Hillary or Mom (Moms do love to advise). So asking yourself is another thing entirely. Yourself is whom (not the subjective “who,” because “whom” is the object of “ask”) you asked, not him or her. In other words, the reflexive use of “-self” is excused.

No excuse for this sentence:

“Please call Maureen and myself soon.”

No; please don’t! But please do call Maureen and me soon. Splitting the two nouns may help each pronoun sound more correct: “Call Maureen” and “Call me” sound just perfect, do they not?

Now perhaps, Dear Reader, you recall your MLP’s column of November last, when she reviewed pronouns. Briefly she reminds that subjective pronouns — I/she/he/they/we/who — go with a verb as subjects (I am; he and they left); that holds true even if verb and pronoun switch places, e.g. “It was I.”

For good grammar’s sake, please refrain from “Me and him are going out.” Not if your MLP can help it, you’re not. Subjects go out; objects are sent out. Sometimes with a kick in the tush (now that crass remark was intentional).

Objective pronouns such as me/her/him/them/us/whom only function as verbs’ (or prepositions’) objects — what the verb or preposition possesses or takes action upon, if you will (see him and them; for her and them).

Don’t forget, reversing positions alters nothing — pronoun function, not placement, determines choice. It’s “Whom may she turn to?” (please ignore the dangling preposition; better to say “To whom may she turn?”), but never “Who may she …”

Why so? The subject is “she” — she is the one turning; not “who” nor “whom.” They serve as object, or recipient, of her tentative turn.

Now as for her own self, your MLP, whom herself has nothing more to say (Shock! Grateful awe!), here stops. Her has a cold to nurse.

•••

Mrs. Language Person and Sholeh Patrick themselves are columnists for the Hagadone News Network. Contact them at sholeh@cdapress.com.

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