Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
Me, Myself, and I

Something strange has happened to pronouns in the last decade or so. In the first part of my life, people used “I” instead of “me” because they felt that “me” sounded ignorant. (How silly!) Now it seems that “I” has gone the way of the overly self-conscious, and people are using “myself” when they really want “I” or “me.” Argh! What will they use when “myself” becomes too ignorantly self-conscious? Possessives?


Here are the rules:


     I bought a book.

     George bought a book for me.

     George bought me a book.

     I bought myself a book.


See? It’s not hard at all. After all, except for the reflexive, you get it right most of the time, right? So maybe you could substitute other pronouns and see if it works the same way. Let’s try it.


     He bought a book

     George bought a book for him.

     She bought him a book.

     George bought himself a book.


Yup. “He” “she” and “I” are both subject forms. “Him” and “me” are both predicate forms. Substituting the name works in the subject form, too. If you find another pronoun clearer when figuring out the form, it’s a little trick you can use when you get stuck.


Let’s try gathering folks into groups. This seems to confuse a lot of otherwise well-spoken people.


     The people involved were Erik, Harold, and I.

     Erik, Harold, and I went to the conference.


In both of these sentences, the pronoun is in the subject of the sentence. In the first sample, it may seem that “the people” provides the subject and the rest should be the predicate, but because “the people” and “Erik, Harold, and I” refer to the same entity, both are the subject of the sentence. (This is the same issue as in “it is I,” where the “it” in question is the same referent as “I.”) Let’s look at a harder one.


     The trail was difficult for Gloria and me.


If you turn this one around, the subject changes.


     Gloria and I found the trail difficult.


Here’s the secret decoder ring: if the subject of the sentence is not the people in it, you can pretend the other person isn’t present in the sentence and conjugate around it. Like this:


     The trail was difficult for me.

     I found the trail difficult.


Then you can just plop the other person back in and you’re set to go.

The “myself” issue is much more obvious. If the companion nominative pronoun isn’t in the sentence, don’t use the form.


     I gave myself a raise.

     You showed yourself the door.

     He taught himself to paint.

     She looked at herself in the mirror.

     It changed itself into a butterfly.

     We rewarded ourselves with hot chocolate.

     They ate themselves into grogginess.


This means that you would never say, “the people involved were Erik, Harold, and myself” because the nominative companion pronoun is missing. It’s simple, right?