If you have ever tried to use “yourself” in formal writing, you may have become confused. Should you use “you” or “yourself” in this sentence? Which is correct? The answer may surprise you.
Use “yourself” only to reflect back to “you” in the subject or to emphasize “you” when used with “yourself.” We can always use “yourself” in a sentence that already has “you” as the subject. Generally, you must use “you” or “yourself” differently, depending on whether “you” is the subject of the sentence.
Yourself as an Object Pronoun
Use “yourself” as the direct object in a sentence when you have already used “you” as the subject (source). For instance, “You see yourself in a different light.” In this case, “you” is the subject, so you would not say, “You see you in a different light.”
We use “yourself” as an indirect object, but only in cooperation with the subject “you.” For instance, “You almost gave yourself a heart attack!” would be correct. However, we would never say, “You almost gave you a heart attack.” This example follows the rule of reflecting “yourself” back to “you” in the subject.
Finally, we can use “yourself” as the object of a preposition if the sentence’s subject is “you.” I could say, “You set that predicament up for yourself.” It is an obtuse way to make the statement, but it is grammatically correct. In this instance, we would not say, “You set that predicament up for you.”
When Is It Correct to Say “Yourself”?
In American English, we often use “yourself” in an imperative sentence because imperative sentences have an understood “you” as the subject. Therefore, it is correct to use “yourself” as the verb’s object because the verb’s subject is “you.”
Examples of “yourself” in an imperative sentence include: “Consider yourself blessed,” “Be yourself,” and as you will frequently see when filling out paperwork, “List the people in your household, including yourself” (source).
Each of these examples follows the rule of reflecting back to “you” as the sentence’s subject.
- (You) consider yourself blessed.
- (You) be yourself.
- (You) list the people in your household, including yourself.
Incidentally, if you find the word “yourself” — or any of the reflexive pronouns, such as “myself,” “herself,” etc. — in the position of the subject in a sentence, it might be due to European influence. In a more formal setting, someone may use “yourself” in a misguided attempt at polite speech (source).
It has become something of an idiosyncrasy in other English-speaking countries to add “self” to a variety of pronouns in both spoken and written communication in an effort to sound more educated.
The result, of course, is the opposite if you understand the rules that limit when to use “yourself.” If “yourself” is not intensifying or reflecting the use of “you,” someone has used it incorrectly. We often use “yourself” incorrectly, so be aware of these simple rules.
In some European countries, you will even hear people use “yourself” and other reflexive pronouns in the place of the subject of a sentence, especially when speaking of nobility.
- Himself is the highest authority on this matter.
It seems strange to the American ear, but this misuse of “yourself” is widely accepted in some parts of the world.
Is It Better to Say “You” or “Yourself”?
When you’re trying to decide whether to use “you” or “yourself” in a sentence, there are two easy tips to remember. First, replace the pronoun with the actual noun to see whether “you” or “yourself” will work better.
“I gave it to yourself” sounds wrong, but “I gave it to Joe” helps me to recognize that I can simply use “you,” as in “I gave it to you” (source).
The second tip that can help you decide whether to use “you” or “yourself” is to switch the pronouns and check for understanding. When we want to sound more formal, we sometimes use weightier words than are necessary.
Capital Community College’s Guide to Grammar and Writing calls this an “Untriggered reflexive,” meaning that it is unnecessary to use “yourself” in most situations.
- Incorrect: You can contact George or myself for more information.
- Correct: You can contact George or me for more information.
One more reminder when using “yourself” correctly in a sentence: make sure to use the correct singular or plural form, depending on how many people you’re referencing. It is easy to use “yourself” incorrectly when you should use “yourselves.”
According to guidetogrammar.org, speakers commonly misidentify groups with singular pronouns. For example, “You should keep yourself up to date” is appropriate for a single person, but we would use “You should keep yourselves up to date” for more than one person.
“Yourself” Used in Comparisons
The best place to use “yourself” is as a pronoun when speaking to someone about himself. For example, if you want to bring someone’s attention to a characteristic about himself, you will use the word “yourself” in place of “you” (source).
For instance, “Look at yourself!” carries a negative connotation, as in “Look at how you have made a mess” or “not made the right choice.”
However, you can also use “yourself” as the direct object in a sentence. For example, instead of “You beat you in that game,” the correct sentence would be “You beat yourself in that game.” Similarly, “You judge yourself too harshly” is correct, instead of “You judge you too harshly.”
Is It “Such as You” or “Such as Yourself”?
There is almost no situation where it is appropriate to use “yourself” when comparing a person to him- or herself. For instance, you would not say, “You are brilliant, such as yourself.” Therefore, you will probably not find an opportunity to use “such as yourself” in a grammatically correct way.
When you compare your listener to the object of the sentence, it may be appropriate to use “yourself.” Again, only use “yourself” if the subject of the sentence is “you.” But do not use “yourself” as the object without the “you” subject. For example, we would say, “Our company’s policies attract employees such as you.”
Is It “Like You” or “Like Yourself”?
When you compare someone else to the object of the sentence, you might be able to use “yourself” in rare instances. But, usually, “you” would be the better choice.
You could say, “What is a nice girl like you doing hanging around with people like them?” In this case, you would use “you” to distinguish the listener from “them.” However, if you used “yourself,” you would also have to use “themselves,” which does not work in this sentence.
Therefore, “What is a nice girl like yourself doing hanging around with people like themselves?” does not feel correct because it is not correct.
Again, you will almost certainly not be able to use “yourself” in comparison with the listener himself. “You are a funny guy like yourself” just is not necessary. Stick with “you” in comparisons using “like” or “as,” and your grammar will be correct.
Is It Correct to Say “Yourself and John”?
Remember, people tend to overuse “yourself” in many applications. Most of the time that you will see or hear “yourself,” the speaker or writer should have used “you.”
It is easy to use the wrong word when trying to make a phrase sound more impressive. Stick with “You and John” instead of trying to sneak in “yourself” unnecessarily.
“Yourself” as a Reflexive Pronoun:
Ideally, we should use “yourself” predominantly in a reflexive position, meaning that it “reflects” back to the subject of the same sentence. This is actually the purpose of all reflexive pronouns, such as “myself,” “yourself,” “themselves,” “herself,” “himself,” and the less common “oneself.”
We use “yourself” to reflect (as in a mirror) that the individual named in the object of the verb is the same person as the one named in the subject of the verb.
- You flatter yourself.
- You should watch yourself.
- You can be proud of yourself.
The verb serves as a mirror, reflecting the object back to the subject. Therefore, “yourself” is a reflexive pronoun.
Pronouns are a fabulous convention within the English language. Without pronouns, we would have to state information much less comfortably. There is much more information in “You and I or You and Me: Understanding the Correct Use of these Pronouns,” but here are two examples of how using pronouns can improve simple conversations.
- Rachel: Does this belong to Dan or to Rachel?
- Dan: It belongs to Dan.
- Rachel: Does this belong to you or to me?
- Dan: It belongs to me.
Without reflexive and emphatic pronouns:
- Rachel: Dan knows how to care for Dan’s self.
- Dan: Rachel, Rachel’s self should know the answer.
With reflexive and emphatic pronouns:
- Rachel: You know how to care for yourself.
- Dan: You yourself should know the answer.
If you compare a person to him- or herself, there are a few appropriate ways to use “yourself.” I might say, “You are your own worst enemy,” or I could say, “Your worst enemy is yourself.”
However, the sentence would work just as well if I said, “Your worst enemy is you.” In this case, “yourself” gives more intensity to the pronoun and would be the better choice.
How Do You Write “You Yourself” in a Sentence?
We can use “yourself” with correct grammar in only two ways. The second way to use “yourself” in a sentence is to intensify the meaning of the object, as in “You yourself know what I’m talking about.” In reflecting and intensifying, “yourself” is the best choice.
When we use it in this way, we call “yourself” an emphatic pronoun. In these examples, the emphatic pronoun “yourself” tells the reader or listener that you are not speaking about a generalized “you” but about a specific “you” as in “you, specifically yourself.”
- You yourself know this is the truth.
- This is the answer, as you yourself know.
We can also use each of the reflexive pronouns as an emphatic pronoun. Whether you are saying “I myself knew what I was doing” or “He himself was the guilty party,” you are using the reflexive pronoun to emphasize, or intensify, the subject.
Now that you know when to use “you yourself” emphatically, it is important to remember how to punctuate the phrase. Although the speaker might pause to emphasize between “you” and “yourself,” you should not actually use a comma in this phrase.
We use it without punctuation of any kind unless we use “yourself” as a tag at the beginning or end of a sentence. For example, “As for yourself, you might prefer the red one.”
How to Use Other Reflexive Pronouns Such as “Yourself” in Similar Ways
As we stated before, there are only two ways to use a reflexive pronoun correctly. Whether the pronoun is “myself,” “herself,” “oneself,” or any other, the rules are the same — only use a reflexive pronoun to reflect back to the subject or to emphasize the subject. Any other use is incorrect and unnecessary.
We should only use reflexive pronouns such as “himself” or “myself” where the verb stands as a mirror, reflecting the object of the verb back to the subject of the verb. For example, “He was talking to himself” or “They ripped themselves off.”
If you remember the rules governing the use of “yourself,” you can apply similar rules to other reflexive pronouns.
We can also use the other reflexive pronouns for emphatic purposes. Again, remember the usage rules for “yourself” and apply them to any other emphatic pronoun. For example, “They themselves knew he was lying to them” or “He himself is the reason for their success.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
For more information on using pronouns correctly, see “Everyone’s or Everyones: Differences, Proper Use, & Meaning.” In addition, you will find a helpful chart delineating several tips that apply to pronouns across the board.
You will hear individuals use “you” and “yourself” both correctly and incorrectly. But, if you follow the tools here, you will be able to use them correctly in your own speech and writing. So which is correct — You or Yourself? The answer, of course, depends on You!
We will only ever use “yourself” to reflect back to the “you” as the subject or to emphasize the “you” stated with “yourself.” Any other use is incorrect and unnecessarily wordy. If in doubt, stick to “you.” There are only two ways to use “yourself” in a sentence correctly — Emphasis or reflection.