me, myself, and I_blog

If you spoke English as a child, you may remember an experience that went something like this: Bursting with excitement, you eagerly started to describe everything you did at school that day to your mom or dad. You opened by telling your parent that “me and Daniel built a castle” only to have mom or dad stop you right in your tracks by saying, “It’s ‘Daniel and I built a castle’ not ‘Me and Daniel built a castle.’” At the time, this small correction may have just seemed like rain on your parade. You probably didn’t know that it would sink into your mind so much that you would end up using it on yourself even when you aren’t supposed to.

For those of us who are native or fluent English speakers, the words “me,” “myself,” and “I” don’t seem that difficult to grasp. After all, we use them all the time, probably every single day. In reality, though, many people confuse these words without even realizing it. To show you how, let’s take a look at an example. Of the following three sentences, which one represents the correct way to write the sentence?

  • A: Read this and tell either Laura or I what you think.
  • B: Read this and tell either Laura or myself what you think.
  • C: Read this and tell either Laura or me what you think.

Would you be surprised if we told you that the correct answer is Sentence C? Most people think either Sentence A or Sentence B is the correct response, so if you selected either of these answers, you’re not alone. For many of us, Sentence C can actually feel like the least correct option because it sounds odd. Some of you may even find it hard to believe that Sentence C really is the correct answer. If we make a small change to the sentences, though, it becomes much clearer that Sentence C is the winner. Specifically, let’s imagine that Laura is no longer in the picture and we need to remove her from the sentence. Let’s see what happens:

  • A: Read this and tell either Laura or I what you think.
  • B: Read this and tell either Laura or myself what you think.
  • C: Read this and tell either Laura or me what you think.

When you read these sentences, it’s much easier to see why Sentence C is the sentence that’s written correctly. These modified versions of Sentence A and Sentence B don’t sound right at all. Sentence C, on the other hand, seems like the type of sentence we would write or say out loud. So why is the original version of Sentence C correct if it looks and sounds so odd? To answer this question, we need to talk about the difference between “me,” “myself, and “I.”

I

We use “I” when we’re referring to ourselves as the subject of a sentence (i.e., the main person, animal, or thing that is doing something or being something). These are examples of how to use “I” in a sentence:

  • “I like ice cream.” (I’m the one doing the liking.)
  • “Jessica and I went to Spain.” (Along with Jessica, I was the one who did the travelling.)

Me

We use “me” when we’re referring to ourselves as the object of a sentence (i.e., the person, animal, or thing that is being acted on by the subject of a sentence). These are examples of how to use “me” in a sentence:

  • “He called me on Saturday.” (I was the person who was called not the person who did the calling.)
  • “Kerry gave me and Alexis a present.” (I’m one of the people who received a present. I’m not the one who gave the present.)

Myself

We use “myself” in two situations. First, we use “myself” when we’re reflecting an action back to ourselves (i.e., we’re both the subject and the object of the sentence). For example, we use “myself” like this:

  • “I stopped myself from spoiling the surprise.”
  • I was the person doing the stopping AND the person being stopped.
  • “I burned myself with a curling iron.” (I was the person who did the burning [using the curling iron] AND the person who was burned.)

We also use “myself” to add emphasis when we want to say that we did something ourselves. In this case, we don’t actually need the word “myself” in the sentence; we could remove it and the basic meaning of the sentence would remain the same. However, including it in the sentence drives home the point that we did something ourselves:

  • “I made the cake myself.”
  • “I fixed the car myself.”

Hypercorrection

As you can see from the examples above, we use “me,” not “I” or “myself,” when referring to ourselves as the object of a sentence (i.e., when we’re being acted on by the subject). The reason why so many people think that they’re supposed to say “Tell Laura or myself what you think” or “Tell Laura or I what you think” instead of “Tell Laura or me what you think” is because they hypercorrect.

Hypercorrection happens when people take a rule they learned and apply it to situations that it doesn’t apply to. When many of us were kids, we often had parents or teachers correcting us by saying “It’s ‘Evan and I played outside’ not ‘Evan and me played outside.’” This advice made sense in these cases because we were talking about ourselves as the subject of a sentence. What happened, though, is that we got used to thinking that “X and me” is always the wrong way to refer to ourselves and another person in a sentence. If you think, “X and me” is wrong, then the logical thing to do is to default to using “X and I” or “X and myself.” Of course, you now know that “X and me” is actually the right way to refer to yourself when you’re the object of a sentence. You also know what you can blame your parents for.

Summary

To figure out whether you need to use “I,” “me,” or “myself,” in a sentence, think about the role that you’re playing in it. Use “I” if you’re doing something or being something, use “me” if you’re being acted on, and use “myself” if you’re both the subject and the object or if you did something yourself and want to emphasize this. Remember, the trickiest sentences are the ones where you and another person are doing something or being acted on. If you have a sentence like this, use the trick that we talked about at the beginning of this post. Remove the other person from the sentence and see which word (i.e., “I,” “me,” or “myself”) makes the sentence work.

Have questions about the difference between “me,” myself,” and “I”? Leave us a note in our comments section below and we’ll get in touch. Your question may even inspire one of our upcoming posts!

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The difference between “me,” “myself,” and “I” and why you may not be using these words correctly
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2 thoughts on “The difference between “me,” “myself,” and “I” and why you may not be using these words correctly

  • August 23, 2020 at 11:25 am
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    I hear university students use the phrase “myself” when giving introductions; such as, on behalf of myself and the Marketing Club . . .
    Is that correct? It hurts my Boomer ears and then I don’t hear an other word.

    Reply
    • August 28, 2020 at 3:54 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Cynthia,

      Great question! There isn’t a clear consensus on the correct pronoun to use in an example like this. Some people believe that saying “on behalf of the team and myself, I…” is correct whereas others believe that “me” should stand in place of “myself.”

      Reply

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