I would like to know whether the following sentence is ambiguous or not in a way that "himself" could either refer to "the man" or "the boy":

"The man told the boy different things about himself."

I'm thinking that I should use "him" to refer to "the boy" and that "himself" could only refer to "the man" since I've read that reflexive pronouns could only refer to their antecedent subjects, but I'm not quite sure about this.

Thanks in advance!

  • 1
    You can use a rule when you write or when you answer exam questions, but the problem is that the reader isn't likely to know the rules (or have confidence that you've followed them). So this is just plain ambiguous.
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 6:37
  • Thanks for the feedback, @Xanne. I also agree that ambiguity may ensue among my readers/listeners after having read/heard this sentence because the rules governing the proper usage of reflexive pronouns are not commonly touched on by most people and because language in general is just full of loopholes in my opinion. However, as much as possible, I would like to avoid having to cite any sources or note any rules whenever I construct sentences like this or rephrase them into a different voice: "The boy was told different things about himself by the man."
    – user264572
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 7:15
  • 1
    Regardless of 'rules', common sense should tell you that if a sentence is ambiguous it needs to be rewritten. Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 9:06
  • I'd only use "The man told the boy different things about him." after say "A tall sandy-haired man came and stood next to the boy, and pointed to Stan." // "The man told the boy different things about himself [the boy]." disambiguates but is clumsy. Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 9:09
  • 1
    Maybe you want it to be ambiguous? "The man told me many things about himself" and "the man told me many things about myself" are not ambiguous, but your sentence is, because "himself" can refer either to the man or boy.
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


The man is the 'subject' of the sentence, so is presumably referring to himself. If you wanted it to be about the boy then you could say something like 'The man told the boy some things he knew about him'

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