“Allow myself to introduce…myself.” – Austin Powers.
I am a Senior Copywriter at StrategicAmpersand. Proper use of the word ‘myself’ (unlike what you see above!) is the first tip in this debut post of On Words, a new monthly feature of our blog. As you know, good grammar, whether spoken or written, is your calling card — affecting first and lasting impressions. Each month, you’ll find good grammar tips covering frequently misused words or punctuation. This refresher guide is designed to help you improve your communications.
Here are September’s grammar tips:
- “Myself” is a reflexive pronoun, used only to refer back to the subject or the clause in the sentence, as in “I poured myself some tea.”
A frequent misuse is, “Call Joe or myself.” Remember, you can only use ‘myself’ if you are the one performing the action on yourself. The correct phrase is “Call Joe or me.”Reflexive pronouns like myself, herself, himself, yourself and itself also can be used to intensify an expression, as in “You, yourself agreed to that plan.”, but I suggest avoiding that usage. It’s redundant!
- “Me” vs. “I” Incorrect usage of these personal pronouns is one of the most common grammatical errors. “I” is a subjective pronoun (just like we, you, he, she, they) and “me” is an objective pronoun (along with him, her, you, them).
Use a subjective pronoun (I) when the pronoun is the subject of a verb, and an objective pronoun (me) when the pronoun is the verb’s object. For example, subjective pronoun usage: “Joe and I are going to a meeting.” objective pronoun usage: “The meeting gave Joe and me a clearer perspective.”
A good way to test yourself to see if you are using subjective or objective pronouns properly is to remove the subject from the sentence and see if it still works. For example, “The meeting gave Joe and I a clearer perspective.” does not work when you remove Joe –“The meeting gave I a clearer perspective.” But it does work if you use the correct objective pronoun –“The meeting gave me a clearer perspective.” Hence the correct usage is “The meeting gave Joe and me a clearer perspective.”
- Singular vs. plural. Subject and verb agreement issues are very common areas of confusion. A collective singular word like list, should appear with a singular verb, as in, “The list of ideas is on my tablet.” A plural subject, like budgets, should appear with a plural verb, as in, “The budgets are ready for review.” Similarly, a collective plural, like children, should also take a plural verb, as in, “The children are playing outside.”
A singular subject should be followed by a singular verb; a plural subject should have a plural verb. Both must be singular or both must be plural. Sounds logical, right? There are so many instances where mistakes are made, and also some instances where other factors affect the correct usage.
For example: If one subject is singular and one is plural, the verb agrees with the closest subject, as in, “The committee and the members are in agreement,” and “Neither the apples nor the corn was in season.”
When indefinite pronouns like ‘none’, ‘many’ or ‘some’ are the subject, they take a plural or singular verb, depending on the context. Here’s a trick: If the subject is countable it takes a plural verb, as in: ‘Some of the water bottles are gone. ’If it isn’t countable, the subject takes a singular verb, as in: ‘Some of the coffee is gone.’
Since subject/verb agreement is a big topic, check out this very good explanation with more variations regarding subject/verb agreement from The Writer’s Centre at the University of Wisconsin:
- Apostrophes. First, let’s look at apostrophe use regarding the pronouns it’s vs. its. The quick and easy rule is: If “its” is possessive, there is no apostrophe. If ‘it’s’ is a contraction, you need one: “It’s nice to see the dog wagging its tail.”Of course, for most possessives using a name or other subject that is not a pronoun like its, an apostrophe is needed before the s.
Another word on possessives: An apostrophe follows ‘s’ after a plural noun ends in ‘s’, as in “boys’ gym”, and when a subject ends in s, as in “Gladys’ party”. Also, if two people possess the same item, use the apostrophe only after the second name, as in, “Joe and Mary’s presentation…”, never “Joe’s and Mary’s presentation…”.
P.S. Language usage fun fact: Did you know that the common phrase ‘bring home the bacon’, meaning arrive with something of value, may date back as early as 1362? Back then, in Dunmow, England, when a couple lived harmoniously in marriage for one year, they were given a side of bacon. The custom was called the Dunmow Flitch. Source: The Dictionary of Clichés by James Rogers