Some of the most common errors in English are due to our burning desire to over-correct ourselves. It is partly because we try to be mindful of our word choices that we can sometimes confuse easier and easily, less and fewer, and affect and effect. Even more common than any of these English grammar mistakes is the misuse of me, myself, and I.
Although the three words all refer to the same person, it can be challenging to decide which one to use. Thankfully, choosing between me, myself, and I is actually a very straightforward process.
The word “I” is the subject of a sentence. It is the noun that is performing the action: I write articles for a living. If there is more than one subject in the sentence, you still use “I” to refer to yourself: John and I enjoy eating pho. It would not be correct to use “me” in this sentence. The easiest way to remember this notion is to remove the second noun from the sentence: I enjoy eating pho vs. Me enjoy eating pho.
That’s because the word “me” is the object of a sentence. It is the noun that is receiving the action of the sentence in some way: A free book was given to Lucy and me. With our habit of over-correction, it is very common to hear someone insert the word “I’ in place of “me” here, because “me” sounds too casual to be correct… but it is correct. As before, alleviate the confusion by removing the second noun: A free book was given to me vs. A free book was given to I.
What about myself? When is it appropriate to use that word? While I am guilty of misusing “myself” in the name of style, it is generally incorrect to use “myself” unless “I” was used earlier in the same sentence: I really prefer beef over chicken myself. We have a habit of using “myself” when a simple “me” will do. It would be an error to say, “A free book was given to myself,” using a variation of the example earlier.
Another point of contention is how we respond on the telephone. If someone asks to speak to you, it is correct to say, “This is he.” This may sound somewhat pretentious, but it is correct. It is not right to say, “This is him.” That’s because the verb “is” (to be) designates equivalence. If the person on the phone asks for Harry, and you are Harry, then the “this” in the sentence refers to Harry. “This is he” is equivalent to “This is Harry” or “He is this [person with whom you’d like to speak].” Confusing? You bet! The easiest solution is just to respond with, “Speaking.”
Got an English grammar question? Pose it through the comment form below and I may answer it in a future edition of Grammar 101 on Beyond the Rhetoric.