Is the sentence:

Ann's friends and herself were really nice to us.

grammatically correct?

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    I'd say "Ann and her friends". – Peter Shor May 19 '12 at 18:00
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    Asking about right and wrong will just get you in trouble ’round these parts. Folks don’t take kindly to absolute moralist principles. – tchrist May 19 '12 at 19:44
  • @tchrist: what I really take agin is people who can't distinguish grammatically from morally (as OP apparently can). – TimLymington May 19 '12 at 23:27
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    @TimLymington No, that wasn’t what I meant. I was being tongue-in-cheek. There are those hereabouts who believe there can exist no such thing as actual rules, no right and wrong, just Ngrams full of blips and spikes and catachrestic inanities, but never anything that is actually right or wrong, or good or bad, or better or worse. The only thing they hold to be evil is normative standards. Bah humbug. – tchrist May 19 '12 at 23:28
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    Et c'est fort bien vu,Tom! Ils commencent à me fatiguer aussi tous ces hereabouts non-prescriptivistes Ngrammomanes! – Georges Elencwajg May 20 '12 at 1:08

No, it is not grammatically correct. The pronoun herself requires there to be an antecedent, but there is none. Although the sentence mentions Ann's friends, Ann herself is not mentioned, so there is nothing for herself to properly refer to.

That is why the common formulation is Ann and her friends.

  • 1
    I don't think this is the problem. "Ann's friends told her ..." is perfectly good English, and here the antecedent is a possessive. The problem is that herself isn't normally used that way, although I can't quite put my finger on why. Merriam Webster says constructions like "a gift to his wife and himself" are acceptable, and this is nearly the same, but not quite. I've found a handful of constructions like the OPs with Google, but I think it's rare enough that it's not quite acceptable. – Peter Shor May 21 '12 at 0:20
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    Careful, @Peter. While it may be used as a shorthand, I do not agree that "Ann's friends told her..." is always perfectly good English. If we know that "her" is "Ann" from outside this sentence, so that you could say "her friends told her...", then saying "Ann's friends told her" would be fine, but, otherwise it should be Ann's friends told Ann.... John swore at Ann. Ann's friends told him to apologize. This is nothing like "a gift to his wife and himself" where "himself" is simply referring to the same antecedent that "his" is referring to. – Old Pro May 21 '12 at 1:00

Separating the reflexive/intensive pronoun from its antecedent in that way sounds strange. The usual way you would phrase the sentence is:

Ann and her friends were really nice to us.

or, if you wanted to emphasize Ann:

Ann's friends—and Ann herself—were really nice to us.


Yes. It is grammatical.

Which is precisely what you wanted to know.

You may add, if you like: "If it is not grammatical, then what rules of grammar does it violate?" in your question.

  • 3
    The rule is: if you remove the "friends and", the sentence should make sense (this is the rule used when you combine a noun with a pronoun using "and", for example, when you have "John and me"). Here, you get either "Ann's herself was really nice to us," or "herself was really nice to us." Doesn't work. – Peter Shor May 19 '12 at 22:42
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    In the sentence "Sarah bought tickets for Ann's friends and herself", it's perfectly clear to me that "herself" means "Sarah". This is more evidence that "Ann's friends and herself" is ungrammatical if "herself" is supposed to refer to "Ann"; if it were grammatical, the sentence would be ambiguous. – Peter Shor May 19 '12 at 23:10
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    @PeterShor: the trouble is, there's no a priori reason why that rule should apply: number doesn't percolate into a coordination, so why should case? Certainly it has been widely taught as a rule of thumb for determining the "correct" case in what Emonds argues is a "prestige" dialect which is nobody's native language, but the persistent occurrence of "Me and John went down the arcade" and the like in many dialects of English shows that it is not a rule of all Englishes. – Colin Fine May 20 '12 at 0:35
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    Anyone trying to apply such a 'rule'* will likely have many of his own past statements proved ungrammatical. (*I'd rather call that a helpful tip than a rule -- not to be applied without exercising discretion.) – Kris May 20 '12 at 6:03

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