We can all agree that the reflexive pronoun in this sentence is necessary:
I bought drinks for myself.

However, I cannot seem to find a definitive answer regarding the following sentence:
I bought drinks for my sister and [me / myself].

While searching online for an answer, I came across a few guides that claim you should not use reflexive pronouns in compound objects yet proceed to give examples for which a reflexive pronoun would be inappropriate even if the object were not compound!

My guess is that a reflexive pronoun should be used, as not using one could cause ambiguity. Consider the following:
He bought drinks for his sister and himself.

Using him in place of himself here would cause ambiguity, would it not? However, I am still not sure whether reflexive pronouns are strictly necessary for similar constructions when the subject is you or I.

  • This is a very tricky area. Rules about when to use reflexive/emphatic pronouns are plagued by exceptions. Often, a simple 'me' or 'him' etc is felt to sound weak (just think of the hypercorrection 'And it's goodnight from Bruce and I'). 'I bought drinks for my sister and me' can sound a little weak, but conversely 'I bought drinks for my sister and myself' can sound rather pretentious. There's no 'best answer'. But here, neither is there an incorrect one. // As you go on to say, avoiding lack of clarity trumps minor style issues. But 'He bought drinks for his sister and him' is OK ... Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 12:43
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    on this score. The issue here is that choosing 'him' rather than 'himself' arguably sounds unnatural. Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 12:43
  • I don't agree that the reflexive pronoun in your first sentence is "necessary". Just because we usually use the reflexive form in such contexts doesn't mean the "flat" pronoun me is somehow "invalid". And here are plenty of written instances of I bought it for me to show that other people are okay with it too. Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 18:35
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    @FF Just checked the first two links you give. The first pairs 'I didn't buy it for you ... I bought it for me' which skews natural-soundingness. The second also contains 'Very interesting and not your usual fitness book, sense of humour has James. Good buy.' And the third 'His biceps burst, thigh muscles ripple, and boasts belch through the canyon.' Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


My short answer is that both are acceptable. The following attempts to justify this answer syntactically.

As an aside, let's note that you can say:

  • I bought drinks for me! [e.g., not for anyone else on the trip]

...which makes it clear that the reflexive is never strictly syntactically necessary. However, turning to the spirit of your question, I would say that both your options I bought drinks for my sister and [me / myself]:

  • sound fine to, and are used by, many native speakers, although obviously individuals may tend to use one or the other more
  • are in fact both grammatically flawless

The first point is self-evident, I believe. I would motivate the second point by analysing the two sentences differently:

  • [I [bought [drinks] [for [my sister and me]]]]
  • [I [bought [drinks] [for [my sister] and [... [myself]]]]]

Don't worry about all the brackets; the important thing to note is just that [my sister and me] is a single constituent in the first sentence, and so does not have a reflexive form. In the second sentence, [myself] is a single constituent, and so can replace [me] (or, strictly speaking, can realise the first-person singular) in the standard manner of reflexives. Note the ellipsis---I assume the underlying structure is something like

  • I bought drinks for my sister and I bought drinks for myself

Having said all this, I would like to suggest another, completely different reason why the myself version is acceptable. This is that reflexive pronouns, at least in British English, are becoming an option to replace accusative pronouns (like me, you) in speech, possibly when mild emphasis is required:

  • I just wanted to check this e-mail with yourself before I send it

To me this sounds horrible, but I hear it all the time, especially among London businesspeople. (I believe it is also traditional in some forms of Irish English, where it does not sound horrible to me!)

One can reject this particular use of the reflexive forms while recognising that it may be contributing to their greater prevalence in other constructions.

  • As far as I can tell, reflexive pronouns cannot replace object pronounce in the U.S. except in certain special cases. (I think one of them is: And yourself? instead of And you? when the rest of the sentence is elided.) Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 14:24
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    @PeterShor indeed! That usage is no doubt familiar to most native speakers, unlike the novel usage I mentioned. Do you think it needs adding to the answer? I would call that an emphatic pronoun, whereas the novel usage I have in mind seems semi-emphatic.
    – legatrix
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 14:34

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