Who the hell writes about whoever-self?

When someone responds to “how are you today” with “good thanks, and yourself?” … it makes my grammar fascist nerve-endings jangle.

“Yourself” here seems lumpy and affected. Why not just “good thanks, and you?” Or even “good thanks, and how are you?”

Who the hell writes about whoever-self?

(Or if we’re going to be truly picky here, it should be “I’m well, thanks. How are you?”)

Anyway to find out why it makes my innate grammar fascist want to spit fur and feathers, I did a little “proper research” to find out just when it is and isn’t comfortable to use that cranky “self” suffix.

The basic pronoun problem, if it is one

Words like you, me, him, her, etc. are objective pronouns, because they are used when whatever-person is the object of a sentence.

Words like you, I, he, she, etc. are nominative pronouns, because – essentially – they are what you use when whatever-person is the subject of the sentence.

Words like yourself, myself, himself,herself, etc. are called reflexive pronouns because they reflect the subject – when the author of the sentence is both the subject and the object. And that’s where the trouble can start.

Whoever-self can do a number of jobs in writing

Take this example of “herself” – it’s a very busy pronoun (thanks for excerpt to Dictionary.com)

1.An emphatic appositive of her or she:
She herself wrote the letter.

2.A reflexive form of her:
She supports herself.

3.(Used in absolute constructions):
Herself still only a child, she had to take care of her four younger brothers and sisters.

4.(Used as the object of a preposition or as the direct or indirect object of a verb):
She gave herself a facial massage. He asked her for a picture of herself.

5.(Used in comparisons after as or than):
She found out that the others were even more nervous than herself.

6. Her normal or customary self:
After a few weeks of rest, she will be herself again.

So, how do we use whoever-self correctly in our writing?

Here are some comfortably correct examples:

He could not forgive himself. (himself is the direct object)

She thought she should buy herself a special treat. (herself is the indirect object)

I was waiting in that empty office by myself for nearly an hour. (myself is the object of the preposition)

Another accepted use is when whoever-self isn’t needed grammatically, but adds emphasis:

She baked the cake herself.

I started to cry myself.

They themselves couldn’t have coped without Henry’s help.

So where is whoever-self not wanted?

Here is where whoever-self is used wrongly, in strict grammatical terms, and as such can irritate the hell out of readers.

Who the hell writes about whoever-self?

Note to “yourselves” – much as the following examples are in common use in business and other writing, do you really want to irritate your readers? For example…

As the subject of a verb: Emma and myself went out for brunch on Saturday. (Emma and I went out for brunch on Saturday.)

As the object of a verb: He called both Dermot and myself into his office for a meeting. (He called both Dermot and me into his office for a meeting.)

Another object of a verb: Surely you can’t expect Shirley and myself to cope with that whole workload? (Surely you can’t expect Shirley and me to cope with that whole workload?)

As the object of a preposition: Her dislike of Anjum and myself was plain to see. (Her dislike of Anjum and me was plain to see.)

Another object of a preposition: The relationship between myself and Kevin is definitely over. (The relationship between me and Kevin is definitely over.)

Given that it’s wrong to write and say whoever-selves in so many ways, why do people do it?

Here are some of the reasons I’ve either worked out for myself, or found elsewhere in my travels:

Some people think that using a whoever-self is less sharp and egocentric than a harsh “I,” “me,” “you” etc.

Some people think that using expressions like “my colleagues and I” sounds rather pompous (if you’re in the UK you’ll have heard jokes about the Queen saying “my husband and I” when beginning speeches…) So instead they will say “my colleagues, and myself.”

Conversely, the addition of a whoever-self can make some writers and speakers feel more important – “I, myself, believe that this way forward is essential to the survival of the company.”

Retail sales people, telemarketers and other people who do a lot of talking to customers will often slip a whoever-self into the conversation when it isn’t required. Possibly this is to make the conversation a little less personal – “is this for yourself, sir?” rather than “is this for you, sir?” – or even to create a little variation to the sales spiel to break up the monotony!

Along the same lines, a whoever-self is sometimes considered a bit more formal and polite than a direct me-to-you conversation.

Whoever-selves also act as extra emphasis, whether the reader or listener likes it or not. Although it certainly does add emphasis, you need to be careful not to emphasise things in a way that irritates your audience. See above.

And finally, according to some experts (not me of course…!) people will use a whoever-self when they’re not sure which is the correct direct version, e.g. “you can leave it with Mary and me” … “you can leave it with Mary and I” … not sure? Go “you can leave it with Mary and myself!”

How do you feel about writing and speaking whoever-selves?

Should we stick strictly to the rules? Or is it OK to use whoever-selves incorrectly for the sake of emphasis or modification? Please share!