In reading a description of a cartoon I came about the following sentence:

But the shadows of the men are not the real reflections of the men but younger versions of themselves.

For me the last word sounds wrong; I would go for "younger versions of them" or "younger versions of their selves".

Am I completely mistaken?

Any help is very much appreciated! Franziska

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    The only exception that would make any sense is if you used the word 'self' in a spiritual sense. Even so I personally would never use 'their selves'. It just sounds horrible. Oct 27, 2015 at 21:27
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    Possible duplicate of Why "themselves" and "himself", where the querent hisself starts off by saying In the earliest grades of elementary schools, students learn that "hisself" and "theirselves" are not words. I do not understand why this is. OED says theirselves is "nonstandard and regional after C18", but I don't really object to it - it's certainly not "abominable" in my opinion. Oct 27, 2015 at 21:36
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    @FumbleFingers - theirselves looks worse in writing than it sounds to my ear. I think I could probably slip it into a spoken conversation without raising too many eyebrows. Oct 27, 2015 at 21:43
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    In my opinion, "them" is fine. The subject of the sentence is "the shadows of the men," and the final word of the sentence does not refer back to this subject ("the shadows"), so it does not need to be reflexive.
    – herisson
    Oct 27, 2015 at 23:07
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    I don't think this question is a duplicate of the one asking why themselves isn't theirselves, in part because their selves doesn't mean the same thing as theirselves. An Ngram graph for "their selves" shows very modest but increasing use of the phrase "their selves" between 1920 and 2005. Many of the recent Google Books search matches for theirselves, in contrast, are in grammar books criticizing the usage.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 29, 2015 at 18:45

1 Answer 1


"Themselves" is a reflexive pronoun and is primarily used when the subject of the sentence is also the recipient of the action: "He tripped and cut himself with the knife he was holding." Hence, although many writers these days would not hesitate to write "younger versions of themselves," "younger versions of them" is actually correct. If you are a prescriptivist, go with the latter; if a relativist, the former.

"Theirselves" is not standard English and is considered ignorant or uneducated. You could, however, quite correctly write a phrase such as "versions of their younger selves."

As Fowler repeatedly points out, in cases like this one the problem usually runs deeper than is apparent. (The use of the word "reflections" to avoid repeating "shadows" is another symptom.) Recasting the sentence is usually a better cure, in Fowler's view. For example, "But the men's shadows are younger versions of them, not real shadows."

  • In the original sentence, I think that adding "of", as in the following example, would clarify it and perhaps make it more grammatical: "But the shadows of the men are not the real reflections of the men but of younger versions of themselves."
    – Dustin G
    Jun 4, 2020 at 12:14

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