Reflecting on the reflexive, and who’s who.

Me myself and I

Imagine yourself, if you will, back in Edwardian times, when it was the fashion for ladies and gentlemen alike to own a dressing table set that included a brush, a comb and areflection hand held mirror.  Many of those sets had additional matching items such as containers for hair pins etc.  When our Edwardian lady looked into her mirror, she saw herself. She did not see anyone else, because her husband had a mirror of his own, and it was not the done thing to have anyone else in one’s boudoir unless you were royalty and had a chamber maid. In their case, “One sees oneself” would have been acceptable. Most royals have their grammar sorted, but for those of us not so well placed, we can just imagine that we own one of those lovely antique mirrors. Personally I imagine a very nice ornately decorated silver one. What do I see when I look into that mirror?  I see my reflection. This is when I need to use a reflexive pronoun and say “I see myself“.

Now if my hubby were to happen by and I caught a glimpse of him in my mirror, I might exclaim, “I can see you!” or I might say to myself, “I can see him!” What I would never say is “I see himself.” Only he can see himself–as we said before he has his own mirror.

Consider Narcissus as he saw his reflection in a pool and found that he was so very beautiful that he focused entirely on himself.  It is the same with reflexive pronouns:

I see myself. I can only see myself.

He sees himself. He can only see himself.

You see yourself. You can only see yourself.

One sees oneself. One can only see oneself.

We see ourselves. We can only see ourselves.

They see themselves. They can only see themselves.

If we were to change the sentences above so that they all saw someone else, there would be no need for a reflexive pronoun. We would simply say:

I see her. ( or him, you, them)

He sees her. ( or him, you, them)

and so on.

The rule is this: when the object is the same individual or item as the subject, we use the reflexive pronoun as the object.

The other instance where you can use the reflexive pronoun is when you want to add emphasis.

I made it myself.

The manager noted that it was he himself who wrote the policy.

One of my pet peeves, and I am not alone, is the misuse of the word “myself”. In my experience, it shows up all over the place in business emails as a substitute for “me”.

Please send it to myself. – should be Please send it to me.

Myself and James will do it. – should be James and I will do it.  “myself” cannot do anything, and neither can “me”!

Me and James will do it. – should be James and I will do it.

In my opinion, all of the above sentences needed my corrections. Checking them on Grammarly, however, I found that they did not have any critical issues with them, so I suppose I have to accept that it’s common usage now. I don’t have to like it, though! Why can’t they simply say “Please send it to me”? I suppose they want to sound more sophisticated, but to me it just sounds pretentious.

It stands to reason that the reflexive pronoun should never have a capital letter. It cannot start a sentence because the subject that it is reflecting must come first.

Who’s who, whose, whom and whoever.

Who are you? Who is Dr. Who? Who are they?

– meaning what person or persons.

It was who she had imagined –

– meaning that person – It was (that person) she had imagined.

Who’s that at the door? Who’s got my umbrella?

Who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has”

Whose shoes are these? Find a person whose vocabulary is good.

Whose is possessive.

Whom did you call? Of whom are you speaking? With whom did you stay? To whom did you give the flowers?

Whom is the objective case and I do think it is less used these days. It is far more common to hear “Who did you call?”,”Who are you talking about?” or “Who did you stay with?” Grammarly seems to tolerate either, but if you want to follow traditional grammar accurately, it’s “whom“.

Whoever it was, they must have been very quick. Whoever gets a full row first calls out Bingo

Whoever refers to any person.

She brought joy to whomever she met.

“Whomever” is objective and also means any person.

You may encounter whosoever or whomsoever in literature, meaning respectively the same as whoever and whomever. I would advise you not to use either because the words sound archaic.

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11 thoughts on “Reflecting on the reflexive, and who’s who.

  1. Thanks for visiting Sheila. Yes Grammarly is becoming a bit of an irritant because it covers up icons that I want to click, and keeps telling me to put commas where I don’t think one is required, and vice versa!

    Liked by 1 person

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