Sunday, November 25, 2012

Their, Myself, and I: Pronoun Missteps

When it comes to grammar, I’m not one to talk, but I have to admit there are a few common grammatical mistakes people make that make me cringe.  I’ll list them here, and with the help of some trusty reference documents, try to straighten the record.

Their She Goes

Have you noticed the way social media features the word “their,” as in “John updated their profile?” 

I understand why this improper use of the word “their” is used.  It was the closest thing the lazy computer programmer could think up that was gender neutral.  The direct alternative would be “John updated his/her profile,” and that may have seemed awkward.  Facebook and LinkedIn, among others, have opted instead to introduce poor grammar to a whole generation of digital natives. 

If I were in that meeting, I might have suggested the sentence, “John has an updated profile,” or “John’s profile has been updated.”

All By Myself

The rising trend of misusing “myself” is interesting because more often than not when it’s used, the speaker seems to be going out of his or her way to be as grammatical as possible.  Turn on the television news and watch a wide receiver describe a touchdown catch.

“The QB threw the ball to myself, and I made the catch for the winning score.”  Actually, the proper way to say it would have been, “The QB threw the ball to me, and I made the catch for the winning score.”

So here’s the right way to use, “myself.”

Myself is a reflexive pronoun.  Here’s how the Internet’s Grammar Girl explains it: “just think about looking into a mirror and seeing your reflection. You'd say, “I see myself in the mirror.” You see your reflection, and myself is a reflexive pronoun.”

Reflexive pronouns are himself, herself, yourself, itself and themselves.  Reflexive pronouns are always the object of the sentence. They cannot be the subject. 

But myself is not always the right word to use when “I” am the object. 

Here are a couple examples of the right way to use the word: “I imagine myself on a beach in the sun.”  Or, “I will buy myself a new pair of cowboy boots.”

One other proper way to use the word is to add emphasis, such as, “I myself couldn’t believe I won the lottery.”

But in any event, it’s never a good idea to include myself in a list, such as, “He invited Sarah, John and myself.”

There are No “I”s in Me

This one drove me crazy when my older son was in high school, because several of his English teachers actually insisted on the improper use of the pronoun “I” in their thesis papers.  They thought it made the kids sound smarter and more proper, perhaps.  But it was wrong.

Here’s the wrong way to say it, “Zach went to the mall with Jerry and I.”   Usually the mistake involves the use of “I” when it should be “me.”  The right way to say it is, “Zach went to the mall with Jerry and me.”

These are both singular, first-person pronouns.  One is the subject of the sentence: “I.” The other is usually the direct object: “me.”

I myself hope this was helpful to you. 

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