Friday, June 22, 2012

Writing 101: Me, Myself and I

Are you and I reading this blog post...or you and me? When should you be using myself in your writing? Me, myself and I are some of the most misunderstood words in the English language, and it's time to clear up the confusion about how and when they ought to be used. 


Me 

Technically speaking, you should be using the word me as a first-person singular when me is an object, and not a subject. But just in case you don't speak in esoteric grammar, let's look at that from a civilian point of view.

First things first: stop being afraid of me. Many writers of all skill levels are inherently frightened of the word, because it's been drilled into them over and over to use and I instead of and me in just about every single grammatical situation. Writers also incorrectly substitute myself when they should be using me instead. But sometimes, me is the only possible choice -- and the only correct one.

How do you know when to use me? Just take all the secondary subjects out of the sentence. For example, if I write The loud alarm startled Mary and I, all I have to do to check the grammar is remove Mary from the equation. I'll end up with a sentence that says The loud alarm started I instead, and that's patently incorrect. The loud alarm started myself sounds even more ridiculous. Clearly, this means that The loud alarm startled Mary and me is the only possible solution. The alarm is the subject of the sentence, and it's affecting Mary and me -- we're both objects.

Myself

The word myself is only used as a reflexive pronoun, and if you don't know what the heck that means don't worry. Plenty of writers have no idea what it means. Myself is in the same language family as herself, yourself and themselves, all of which are used as objects in a sentence and not as subjects (this means the sentence isn't about myself or herself or anyself). The subject is responsible for the action in a sentence; the object is being affected by that action.

Generally, myself only appears in sentences when you're using it with the word I. For example, I see myself writing another blog post early tomorrow, or I don't care for grammar rules, myself. What I wouldn't say is that The alarm sounded startling to both Mary and myself, because The alarm sounded startling to myself is ludicrously and obviously incorrect. But if I'm saying I thought the alarm sounded startling, myself, then I'm correct.

 I

The word I is used when I am the main subject of the sentence: I am writing this blog post, for example. When I'm responsible for the action in the sentence, the word I is used instead of me. For example, Mary and I hate that loud alarm is correct, because the verb is hate and the ones creating that hate are Mary and I. Even without Mary, the sentence is correct: I hate that loud alarm. Remember that me is used when I am the object, not the subject, of the sentence. When I'm the subject, I use I.
 
And the Exceptions

There are exceptions to every rule, and some phrases become so common that they're accepted as correct English even when they are not. It's more technically accurate to say It's I instead of It's me, but who ever says It's I? Don't ever be married to grammar rules, because in everyday language they don't always apply. Re-read your sentences, and when the grammatically incorrect stuff sounds right and natural consider sticking with it anyway. It's important for your writing to be correct, but it's more important for it to be readable. 

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