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As a unit admin I’m often typing award certificates. The last line of the award citation usually goes something like this:

Private Joan Smith actions reflect great credit upon herself, the 120th Jumping Jacks Company, the 13th fighter Battalion and the United States Army.

It was recently pointed out to me that this is correct:

Private Joan Smith actions reflect great credit upon her, the 120th Jumping Jacks Company, the 13th fighter Battalion and the United States Army.

The first way is what I’m used to seeing and it looks right to me, but has always sounded awkward when reciting it. When I say the other way out loud it sounds better, but both seem to work. Which is correct?

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    Two things: First, Private Joan Smith is possessive here and should have an apostrophe-S possessive marker. Second, reflexive pronouns like herself are used when referring back to the subject of a sentence. However, Private Joan Smith is not the grammatical subject here; her actions are. – Bradd Szonye Jan 16 '14 at 20:42
  • I think it's hearing the familiar phrase: to take (something) upon oneself/herself i.e "She took it upon herself to personally reply to each and every single request" that makes the "upon herself" part in the OP's sentence sound acceptable. – Mari-Lou A Jan 17 '14 at 20:11
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Her is correct here, and not herself:

Private Joan Smith's actions reflect great credit upon her, the 120th Jumping Jacks Company, the 13th fighter Battalion and the United States Army.

Use a reflexive pronoun where the subject of the verb is also the object.

In this case, the subject is Private Joan Smith's actions, and they are reflecting credit on to Private Joan Smith. Thus the subject of reflects is not the object (great credit) nor even the indirect object (Joan Smith), and the pronoun should not be reflexive.

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The first sentence proves to be a rather popular circumstantial construction as opposed to the second.

Private Joan Smith's actions reflect great credit upon herself, the 120th Jumping Jacks Company, the 13th fighter Battalion and the United States Army.

I am just being purely subjective here and in addition I found this brief but rather vague rationale, if it helps. Here it states that :

The idea of the reflexive pronoun is that the subject and the object are pretty much the same, as in

  • The cat washed herself.
  • He paid himself a handsome salary.

That isn't happening in the sentence, where his accomplishments is not the same as the object. However, I think we're saved by the fact that the pronoun is contained within a prepositional phrase. And here we can use the reflexive pronoun himself.

This is a fairly common official statement given the Google search results. First statement returned around 53,700 results on exact string match while the second statement just returned around 4,310 results.

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