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Reading the following in Harry Potter 1 made me think if it was okay to use itself for more than one person.

One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow.

Hogwarts refer to people associated with a place of the same name.

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General Reference. It may be an example of anthropomorphism, but Hogwarts here refers to the (singular) place itself, not the (plural) pupils, staff, etc. –  FumbleFingers Jun 14 '12 at 16:31
    
@FumbleFingers- What is anthropomorphism? First time hearing this. –  Noah Jun 14 '12 at 16:50
    
Not to take away from the Harry Potter books, but I would not use them as a reference for grammatical prowess. –  NominSim Jun 14 '12 at 17:01
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@FumbleFingers I guess you don't understand what I am trying to say. I am just saying that if you are going to try to learn proper grammar, don't go to a children's book for it. Every author breaks certain rules, and has small intricacies that make their writing style unique. It's part of what makes them great authors but if you're looking for a concrete example of how the "rules of grammar" should be applied to a given situation, don't look at a children's novel. –  NominSim Jun 14 '12 at 20:33
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@NominSim: You're right - I don't understand what you're saying. That's because it doesn't make much sense. Language is what competent speakers and writers use to communicate, and Rowling is a competent writer. "Grammar" is a feeble attempt to describe and codify how such people use language - it doesn't represent anything meaningful in and of itself. OP will not be disadvantaged by reading Rowling and copying the constructions he finds therein, but he has repeatedly tied himself in knots while trying to understand and follow the advice of grammarians. –  FumbleFingers Jun 14 '12 at 23:29
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4 Answers 4

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In this sentence, Hogwarts refers to the place, and therefore "itself" is correct. (There's a bit of anthropomorphization going on here.)

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Isn't the place called Hogwart? –  Noah Jun 14 '12 at 16:02
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@Noah, no it's Hogwarts, per J.K. Rowling's site: www.jkrowling.com –  JLG Jun 14 '12 at 16:23
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Hogwarts can also be the personification of the building, area, or organization. That would make it singular, and therefore itself would be correct.

It's not the group of students awaking to find themselves covered in snow; it's the school "awaking" to find itself covered in snow.

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The sentence is a complicated one and there are few things going on here.

First, there is metonymy, that is, reference to a thing (here, the group of people who wake up) via the name of something associated with that thing (here, their school). So, the singular reflexive itself is used here, because the metonym, Hogwarts, names an institution, which is singular (you would say Hogwarts is (not are) lovely under the snow).

Second, as Lawton pointed out, it is the school building that was covered in snow, not the school students, even though the school students woke up, not the school building. That is, Hogwarts refers to different things in Hogwarts woke and Hogwarts was covered in snow. This is a curious but common fact about institutional nouns. Noam Chomsky, the famous linguist, has pointed out that you can say things like After the bank burned down, it moved across the street, where the first clause means the bank as a building, and the second, the bank as a business (clearly, the burnt out building didn't move across the street).

Finally, though, none of this answers your original question, whether it is okay to use itself for more than one person. Leaving metonymy aside, you can do this in some dialects of English (such as Rowling's) with collective nouns. For instance, it's fine for me to say After realising its uselessness, the committee disbanded itself.

[Appendix:] The sentence Noah quoted doesn't contain any anthropomorphism (contrary to a few comments above).

Anthropomorphism is the ascription of human properties to nonhumans. For example, The sun glared angrily at the travellers or The labrador had once again acted with gross turpitude. Though anger and turpitude are properties of people or their actions, we can use them to characterize how behaviours of non-humans look or feel to us. When we do so, we anthropomorphize the objects in question (the sun, a dog, etc.). (Of course, it wouldn't be anthropomorphic to say The labrador glared angrily at the travellers, not unless you believe that dogs can't be angry.)

There is no anthropomorphism in Rowling's sentence because no property is ascribed to a non-human. The non-human in play is the collection of buildings that make up Hogwarts school. However, as a few people noted above, the buildings are not being said to have woken up. Rather, the school name is used as a stand in (that is, a metonym) for the students and staff who comprise the school.

Hence, this is metonymy, rather than anthropomorphism.

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Itself can refer to the entity of a group, but can not refer to the group as a collection of its members.

"The group (did something) itself.", refers to "the group" as one object, so 'itself' applies.

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