Ourselves vs Ourself: Understanding Pronoun Usage and Differences

Marcus Froland

English is a tricky language, full of twists and turns that often leave learners scratching their heads. One such perplexing pair is “ourselves” vs “ourself.” At first glance, they might seem interchangeable, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find they’re not quite the same. The difference between these two words might appear subtle, but it’s significant enough to change the meaning of a sentence.

Many English speakers use these terms without giving them much thought. Yet, when you’re trying to perfect your language skills, understanding these nuances becomes crucial. So why does this small distinction matter? And more importantly, how can knowing the difference help improve your English? Stick around; the answer might surprise you.

Many people get confused between ourselves and ourself. The main difference lies in the number of people involved. Use ourselves when you’re talking about a group doing something together. For example, “We did it ourselves” means the group achieved something without help.

Ourself, on the other hand, is much less common and often considered outdated or formal. It’s used to refer to a single person within a group, but today, most people simply use ‘myself’ instead. So, while you might come across ‘ourself’ in older texts or very formal writing, ‘ourselves’ is the word you’ll need most of the time.

The Basic Distinction between Ourselves and Ourself

The understanding of the basic distinction between ourselves and ourself is rooted in the traditional rules of number agreement in English grammar. While “ourselves” is the grammatically correct form to use when referring to more than one person engaging in or being affected by the same action, “ourself” might seem like an appropriate singular alternative. However, this seemingly logical assumption often leads to confusion after considering the true context in which “ourself” is typically used.

When “we” refers to a group of individuals, the appropriate reflexive pronoun to use is “ourselves,” as it correctly denotes the plural subject performing an action that impacts the group as a whole. However, in terms of our understanding of singular and plural pronouns, “ourself” might appear to be the singular form of “ourselves.” This assumption is actually incorrect, as “ourself” is traditionally used alongside the royal “we,” indicating a single person with authority.

“Ourselves” is used for plural reference, while “ourself” is traditionally associated with the royal “we.”

Modern English discourages the use of “ourself” due to its inconsistency with the plural qualities of “our” and “we.” However, there are special circumstances when “ourself” remains appropriate, such as when referring to an individual holding a certain authority or position of power.

  1. Plural Grammar: Use “ourselves” when “we” refers to a group of people.
  2. Singular vs Plural Pronouns: “Ourself” might seem like the singular form of “ourselves,” but it is traditionally linked to the royal “we.”
  3. Special Contexts: “Ourself” can be appropriate in specific scenarios involving authority or historical precedents.

In summary, it’s crucial to consider the context and the rules of plural grammar when choosing between “ourselves” and “ourself.” By gaining a firm grasp on the traditional English grammar rules, it becomes much easier to select the correct reflexive pronoun in different scenarios.

Historical Context and the Royal We

In historical texts, the usage of “ourselves” and “ourself” often deviated from modern grammatical expectations to serve a more symbolic function. This unique historical pronoun usage, specifically with “ourself,” was a way for individuals, particularly those of royalty or authority, to exert their power by referring to themselves as a collective entity rather than as a single individual.

Usage of ‘Ourselves’ and ‘Ourself’ in Historical Texts

During the Middle Ages, kings and queens would frequently deploy “ourself” in place of the first-person singular “I” when referring to themselves. This usage signaled their divine right to rule, embodying the interests of their realm and separating them from the common people. This deviation from contemporary grammatical norms made their speech sound grander and more authoritative.

In the proclamation of King John from 1215, he declared “We, ourself, in our own person, shall be present.”

By using “ourself” instead of the more typical “myself,” rulers conveyed their elevated status, emphasizing their role as a sovereign authority acting on behalf of their nation. This historical pronoun usage transcended grammatical correctness to convey the symbolism of power and authority.

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Reflecting Authority: The Royal and Editorial We

The royal we and editorial we are forms of authoritative self-reference that persist in specific professional contexts even today. By using “we” to mean “I” and employing “ourself” as a singular reflexive pronoun, individuals are able to project authority and editorial voice. This is especially prevalent when a person speaks on behalf of an institution or collective entity, such as an editor penning an opinion piece for a newspaper.

This historical approach to pronoun usage has its roots in the days of monarchs who would employ the “royal we” to signify their symbolic rule over their domains, in turn applying “ourself” in a singular context to command authority and respect. Both the royal we and editorial we allow a form of dignified self-reference to flourish, despite their deviation from standard English grammar.

  1. Example of the royal we: Queen Elizabeth II said, “We thank you from the bottom of our heart.”
  2. Example of the editorial we: In an editorial, an author might write, “We, at the newspaper, believe that this measure should be taken for the betterment of our community.”

Though the use of “ourself” has become less common in modern English, its historical significance and continued appearance in specific contexts remind us of the evolving nature of language and the unique power that pronoun usage can have in reflecting authority.

Correct Usage of ‘Ourselves’ in Modern English

In modern English, ourselves serves as the appropriate reflexive pronoun when “we” is the subject performing an action that reflects back onto the group. This reflexive pronoun covers both the subject and object when referring to the same group engaging in an action. Additionally, it can emphasize a group’s collective action or highlight a group’s state or condition.

An important note is that using “ourselves” in place of “us” or “we” after words like “as” or “but” is considered informal and less widely accepted in modern English grammar. To understand the correct usage of ourselves, consider the following examples:

  1. We did the project by ourselves without any help.
  2. We must take care of ourselves during this epidemic.
  3. The teachers expect us to conduct ourselves properly in class.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

In the above quote, “we” refers to a group of people united in a cause or situation, and therefore, the use of ourselves would be appropriate if a reflexive pronoun was needed.

Here is a quick comparison of correct and incorrect scenarios:

Correct Usage Incorrect Usage
We taught ourselves how to swim. We taught ourself how to swim.
Let’s remind ourselves of the rules. Let’s remind ourself of the rules.

Remember, in modern English grammar, “ourselves” should be your go-to choice when the subject “we” is performing an action that reflects back onto the group. By recognizing this correct usage and following established guidelines, you can ensure clear and accurate communication in whatever context you find yourself writing or speaking.

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When ‘Ourself’ Makes Sense: Special Contexts and Exceptions

Although modern English conventions primarily recommend using “ourselves” as the plural reflexive pronoun for “we,” there are some ourself exceptions that can make sense in specific contexts. These instances usually involve treating a traditionally plural subject, such as “we,” as a singular entity, highlighting individual actions or characteristics of a larger collective group. Let’s explore these special pronoun contexts in greater detail.

  1. Authoritative Speech: In circumstances where an individual takes an authoritative stance or represents a collective, using “ourself” can emphasize the singular nature of the entity’s influence or power. For example, a leader speaking on behalf of a political party or movement could employ “ourself” to stress their unique authority within the group.
  2. Groups of Undefined Breadth: When referring to a larger group with unspecified numbers or boundaries, “ourself” might be applied to indicate that each person within that group shares a common experience or perspective. This usage underscores the unity and shared goals or characteristics among its members.
  3. Abstract or Introspective Contexts: “Ourself” can be suitable in situations where the focus is on individual members of a group, highlighting their specific thoughts, experiences, or actions within the larger collective. This may occur, for instance, in philosophical discussions or analyses that consider each group member at a personal level.

Despite what we might have believed, the collective managed to rise above our own doubts, proving to ourself once again the power of unity.

These reflexive pronoun usage exceptions are important to recognize and understand, as they can lend unique depth and nuance to our language when skillfully incorporated into dialogues and texts within the appropriate contexts. As long as you are mindful of these scenarios and use “ourself” sparingly and deliberately, you can expand your linguistic repertoire and convey more nuanced ideas and meanings.

Examples of ‘Ourselves’ and ‘Ourself’ in Literature

Literature, while creating a world of imagination, also serves as a key platform for understanding grammatical structures and the usage of various pronouns. In works of literature, one may observe examples of pronouns such as “ourselves” and, in some cases, “ourself.” Let’s explore some instances where these pronouns have been used differently to convey meaning and context.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

    “Won’t you come into the garden? We shall be a disgrace to ourselves if we are seen – Miss Darcy would never have the face to own us.”

  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker:

    “We are truly in the hands of God. He alone knows what he may require of any and all of us.”

In these examples from classic literature, “ourselves” is used to convey collective actions or experiences. The use of “ourselves” enhances the sense of a shared experience, emphasizing the fact that the entire group is affected by a specific action or event. Here, “ourselves” correctly aligns with the plural “we,” following the grammatical rules of modern English.

Historically, “ourself” was more commonly employed by poets, writers, and playwrights. In some cases, it was used for stylistic purposes, as a singular reflexive pronoun, despite the plural “we.” However, as grammar rules became more standardized over time, the use of “ourself” in literature began to wane. Nevertheless, one may still encounter the occasional usage of “ourself” in contemporary literature. An example can be found in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett:

“Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. […] To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not.”

In this instance, Beckett uses “us” to refer to a collective identity that speaks with a singular voice. This passage demonstrates the nuance of pronoun usage and the stylistic choice that the author made to convey a unique perspective.

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Common Misconceptions and Grammar Myths Debunked

Contrary to popular belief, “ourself” is not a regular part of contemporary English and its use is largely restricted to specialized narratives or historical contexts. One of the most common grammar misconceptions is the idea that “ourself” is the singular form of “ourselves.” In reality, “ourselves” is the only suitable reflexive pronoun for the plural “we” in standard English, with rare exceptions that do not conform to general grammatical rules.

Let’s dive into some of these reflexive pronoun myths and uncover the truth behind them. Understanding the underlying grammar rules can clarify your pronoun usage and reinforce the correct application of reflexive pronouns, including “ourselves” and “ourself.”

  1. Myth: “Ourself” is the singular reflexive pronoun for “we.”

    Fact: “Ourselves” is the only reflexive pronoun for the plural “we.”

  2. Myth: “Ourself” can be interchangeable with “ourselves” in most situations.

    Fact: “Ourself” is only suitable in specific narrative, historical, or authoritative contexts and should not be used interchangeably with “ourselves.”

  3. Myth: “Ourselves” is an informal and less correct form of “ourself.”

    Fact: “Ourselves” is the standard reflexive pronoun for the plural “we” and holds a more secure place in the modern English language than “ourself.”

These myths often create confusion and misunderstanding in the application of reflexive pronouns. By debunking these misconceptions and enhancing pronoun clarity, you can improve your overall communication skills and writing proficiency in the English language.

Practical Tips to Ensure Correct Pronoun Usage

In order to improve your pronoun usage, it’s essential to understand the rules and exceptions of “ourselves” and “ourself.” One effective way to remember the differences and ensure accurate usage is by associating plural pronouns like “we” with reflexive pronouns like “ourselves.” To solidify this understanding, utilize mnemonic devices and practice applying these pronouns correctly in various contexts.

Strategies to Remember the Difference

Visualize pronoun usage in real-life situations to reinforce grammar rules in your mind. Think about a group of people performing an action together; this usually requires the use of “ourselves.” In contrast, situations where an individual is speaking on behalf of a group in an authoritative context, as seen with the “royal we,” may necessitate the use of “ourself.” By keeping these distinctions in mind, you will strengthen your reflexive pronoun usage and enhance your overall writing skills.

Common Situations and How to Approach Them

When confronted with everyday scenarios calling for reflexive pronouns, it’s critical to consider whether the context involves multiple people or a singular entity representing a group. Typically, you should default to “ourselves” in plural situations. However, when dealing with historical or authoritative contexts where the collective “we” refers to a single person or entity, it is appropriate to use “ourself.” By continuously practicing and applying these distinctions, you will become proficient in navigating various pronoun situations and improve your English language skills in the process.

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