2
  1. I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support ourselves.
  2. I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support us.

The ourselves and us refer to my family.

Which one is correct?

  • 2
    A third option is itself, which would be my choice. – Shoe Nov 22 '13 at 12:32
  • 1
    Any attempt to answer without full context would be speculation. The choice between ourselves & us depends entirely on what you intend to say. And that would be the whole story behind the sentence. – Kris Nov 22 '13 at 12:59
  • @Shoe That's another new dimension to the issue. Each has a different implication. Your choice can only depend on what exactly is intended in the context. – Kris Nov 22 '13 at 13:00
4

A shoe suggests, the better choice is

I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support itself.

Here are the issues as I see them


I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support ourselves

should be

I am simply haunted by the fear of us not having enough money to support ourselves


I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support us

Sounds like you are afraid that your uncles are not rich enough to help support you and your wife


I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support themselves

sounds like you can support yourself, but your family in xxx does not have enough money

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  • 1
    Saying that "family" has to be referred to at "it" because it's third person singular is just wrong. Consider "I'm going to see my wife's extended family at its annual reunion this weekend. Most of it hates me." That sounds terrible; it's much better to use their and them. So is there a good reason for saying you have to use itself here? – Peter Shor Nov 22 '13 at 14:08
  • So you choose "themselves" in the first sentence? I can totally hear "itself" used in that sentence – mplungjan Nov 22 '13 at 14:37
  • In the first sentence, I think "themselves" and"itself" are both fine (I'd use "themselves" myself). I just don't somebody to see this answer and think there's a rule against using "themselves". – Peter Shor Nov 22 '13 at 15:27
  • I hear themselves and I feel he is excluding himself. – mplungjan Nov 22 '13 at 16:05
3

Both would be grammatical. The choice depends on the first part of the sentence and the overall context. In some cases, themselves would be appropriate.

EDIT:

In the light of the completed sentence and your further explanation, I would say that the sentence is not one that a native speaker would normally produce, either with ourselves or with us. That is because my family is third person singular and both ourselves and us are first person plural. In a conversation, it would be clear by the time that this sentence was uttered that the family was in financial difficulties. The speaker would therefore say something like 'I am simply haunted by the fear that we won’t have enough money to support ourselves.’

If the speaker had not been included among the family members, then 'I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support themselves’ would have been possible.

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  • Here's the complete sentence 'I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support ourselves/us.' Ourselves/us refers to my family, which consists of my parents, my siblings, and me. – user57988 Nov 22 '13 at 12:29
  • 1
    Would either be grammatical? The second part of the sentence is a clause, the subject of which is 'my family' in the third person. One couldn't say 'My family is not able to support ourselves' could one? The persons do not match. Wouldn't one have to say 'My family is not able to support itself'. Therefore the OP surely is bound to say 'I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support itself'. – WS2 Nov 22 '13 at 12:43
  • @WS2 It would. I go into more detail in my answer as to why. – Jon Hanna Nov 22 '13 at 12:49
  • Mind seeing my comment at OP. All options are grammatically and semantically acceptable depending on context. I can visualize situations where each would be appropriate and actually warranted. – Kris Nov 22 '13 at 13:08
  • I don't see anything worn with "ourselves" here. – Peter Shor Nov 22 '13 at 13:45
1

The safest general rule, is that you use the reflexive (myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, oneself, ourselves, ourself†, yourselves, themself‡, themselves) when it refers back to a previously stated noun, noun phrase, or pronoun.

Correct:

I got it for myself.

He got it for me.

Incorrect:

*He got it for myself.

*I got it for me.

Dialects differ on sometimes allowing either or both of the forms marked as incorrect here, but none consider the first two examples to be incorrect.

The interesting thing here, is that there is a switch of person, which means we could consider it in either way (and another). "My family" is a third-person singular term that refers to a first person plural concept (because you are part of your family). Hence we can have:

I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support ourselves.

This treats "my family" as a first person plural concept, and hence refers back to it with ourselves.

I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support us.

This treats "my family" as a third-person singular term, an introduces the first person plural object us as what it is (or may not) supporting.

We can also have:

I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support itself.

Which treats "my family" as a third-person singular term, and then refers back to it.

We cannot though have:

*I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support it.

Because if we treat it as third-person singular at the end, then we are clearly referring back, and so must have itself rather than it.

We could also have:

I am simply haunted by the fear of my family not having enough money to support themselves.

Because we can also consider our family in exclusion to ourselves (that is, I can use "my family" to mean both everyone in my family including me, and everyone in my family except me), and this allows us to treat it as third-person plural.

All of these except for the form using itself are switching person and/or plurality from the first-person singular term to another person or plurality on the basis of the reader's understanding of how families contain people. Because itself does not require any such switching, it's the version that would meet the least objections, and probably the best choice to go for.

† Only used with the majestic plural, which you only use if you are a monarch, pope, or in some cases an earl or higher rank or a few other jobs. That it was controversial when a mere Prime Minster used it, should suffice to convey that it is very restricted in use.

‡ Related to the singular use of they/them and hence condemned by those who don't approve of singular uses of they/them.

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  • By accepting '...by my family not having enough to support ourselves', you seem to imply, going back to your opening example, that 'He got it for ourselves' is grammatical. But you have ruled out 'He got it for myself'. Therefore doesn't it have to be 'He got it for us'. Anyway you have half-persuaded me, as I now accept that 'by my family not having enough to support us' is correct; but not 'ourselves'. – WS2 Nov 22 '13 at 13:14
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    @WS2, "he got it for ourselves" has nothing for "ourselves" to refer back to. "My family got it for ourselves" would by considering "my family" to be first-person plural. "My family" is a third-person singular phrasing, but of a first-person plural concept, allowing us to switch person. – Jon Hanna Nov 22 '13 at 13:20
  • @WS2 that said, such switching is objected to by some. I've updated my answer accordingly. "...itself" is the only form with no such switching and hence no such grounds for objection. – Jon Hanna Nov 22 '13 at 13:30
  • I don't like "my family … to support us". Because you don't use a reflexive pronoun here, that sounds to me that "us" is a different entity from "my family". So my first impression would be that saying something like you're worried that your parents not having enough money to support you and your wife. "Ourselves" resolves this. – Peter Shor Nov 22 '13 at 13:42
  • @PeterShor one could just as well argue that us is introducing a first-person plural where there was none before, and hence us is superior to ourselves. I personally also like ourselves more than us for precisely the reason you gave (though I prefer itself more again), but in the distance between what is permitted and what is pleasing, I'd argue for all of them, as I have in my question, as permitted more strongly than I'd argue for the more subjective case of what pleases. (Itself wins again on permission, requiring no switching of person). – Jon Hanna Nov 22 '13 at 14:36
-2

"Ourselves" is nominative: "us" is objective.

See: You and Me both

for a complete explanation. "Ourselves" is nominative: "us" is objective.

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-2

"Ourselves" is nominative: "us" is objective.

See: You and Me both

for a complete explanation. "Ourselves" is nominative: "us" is objective.

| improve this answer | |

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