In this post I hope to pass on to yourself and others the importance of the proper use of the -self and -selves words. Just writing that sentence made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The -self and -selves words are reflexive pronouns meaning they “reflect” back in the same sentence to the personal pronoun such as me, you, him, her. Think of the reflexive pronoun as reflecting in a mirror and it needs the pronoun to make the reflection. The phrase “me, myself, and I” is correct because myself reflects back on the reference to me. However, the song title “Dancing with Myself” is not correct because there is no pronoun for myself to reflect. If it were “I am dancing with myself,” it would be correct because then the myself is reflecting back on I. Using myself in a sentence as the subject of the sentence is wrong. Using myself without a pronoun to reflect back on is wrong. I can’t tell you the number of times I see and hear something like “Jane went to the mall with Mary and myself.” There is no personal pronoun in that sentence for myself to reflect. If you take Mary out of the mall party, would you really say “Jane went to the mall with myself”? I certainly hope not! So the sentence should be changed to “Jane went to the mall with Mary and me” because Jane would go to the mall with me and not with myself whether Mary was there or not.
Unless your sentence contains a reference to you already, you should not use myself. The same goes for yourself, themselves, himself, herself, etc. Unless you’ve already mentioned you, them, him, or her, you can’t add -self or -selves. Personally I think there are very few instances where any of the -selves fit or are necessary, so just don’t use them. Trust me, using myself does not make you sound more intelligent. In fact, just the opposite is true. If you must use it, however, make sure it reflects back to the appropriate pronoun. If the -self in your sentence can’t reflect something, just don’t use it. You can guarantee that is a way to make yourself very happy!
I think the number one all time grammar fail is the apostrophe. It is not a punctuation mark for making words plural (more than one of something), it is a mark to show possession (ownership of something) or to show where letters are missing in a contraction (such as “don’t”). There is an easy test I found to make it a little easier to determine if something needs an apostrophe for possession:
- Look for the possible possessive phrase:
– the man[‘s] desk
– desk of the man
- Examine the base ownership word to determine who owns the thing (here “man”). The most important thing is not to change the spelling of a singular noun just to make it possessive. For instance, the man (one man) is still the owner of the desk. Ownership doesn’t magically make the desk belong to more than one man. It would be the “man’s desk” not the “men’s desk.”
- Does the base word showing ownership end with an s sound?
- If it does not end in an s sound, add an apostrophe and s:
– the man’s desk
- If the ownership word does end in an s sound, you usually add only an apostrophe:
UNLESS you actually hear the s sound when you say it, then you should add an apostrophe and s
That is a really important “unless” and one that is controversial. Say it out loud if necessary. Again, however, while it may be correct under one reference source, the person you are working for may not like it that way. Do it the way they want it so you can stay employed, but keep fighting the fight and sharing your resources so that hopefully one day they will come over to your way of thinking (or just get tired of listening to you go on and on about it – which is what I think happens in my case more than I’d like to admit).
Proper names are sometimes the most difficult. I once worked with someone with the last name “Andrews” and actually saw (with my own eyes) how people (and more than one) would try to make it possessive by adding the apostrophe before the s – Andrew’s. Never, ever change the spelling of someone’s name before you make it plural or possessive. Start with the name and then do what you need to do to it. Just remember that is one thing that is sacred to everyone – their own name.
Apostrophes really are not as difficult as they seem to be when you see how often they are used incorrectly. It is just something that takes thinking about to get right. Take the time to think about it and you are a step ahead of most people.
I want to take just a minute to thank you all for the terrific response to my first blog posts. I was really worried about starting this blog because I knew my audience would be at least as crazy about good grammar as I am, so I read, re-read, edited, re-edited, and procrastinated posting because I was worried that I had missed errors and would be publicly called out on it. I did miss errors, but people were really nice about it, taught me a thing or two I didn’t know, and I was able to correct the errors without public humiliation. I did tell you I’m not an expert and I’m not. My hope is that I am able to impart some good tips to help you be just a little bit better. If that happens, I feel like I have accomplished what I set out to do and actually made a difference – errors and all.
Time for a grammar giggle. I took this picture at a local grocery store shopping center. I’ve passed it multiple times and I notice it every time. Apparently, the Club belongs to the Nail … or the owner’s name is Nail … or they don’t understand possessives.
Please share pictures of your own “grammar giggles” so we can all enjoy them. Email your favorites to email@example.com.