EN: themselves / themself

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by cooling, Feb 4, 2008.

  1. cooling Member

    France, français
    Tout d'abord bonjour à tous ! Je connais ce super forum depuis longtemps... Très intéressant... A mon tour de poser une question !

    Themself n’est apparemment utilisé que dans un anglais relâché d'après les normalistes, pourtant Jane Austen l'a utilisé, pour ne citer qu'elle.

    Dans la phrase suivante : The children hurt themselves while playing, themselves me semble tout à fait normal puisqu'on considère chacun des enfants en "unité"

    Mais alors, est-ce correct de dire They bought the flowers themself (=elles s'en sont occupé ensemble et par leurs propres moyens) ?Si on condisère que l’action a été faîte en groupe, cela reste-t-il correct quand même ? Ou bien est-ce que je ne sais plus parler anglais ??

    Merci de m’éclairer.
  2. UneHeureuxPommeDeTerre Member

    Michigan, United States
    United States -- English
    Il faut que vous faites la concordance: They bought the flowers themselves.

    Mais je ne sais pas exactement ce que vous voulez dire avec cette phrase. Est-ce qu'elles ont acheté les fleurs pour quelque chose, ou est-ce qu'elles ont acheté les fleurs plutot qu'une autre personne? ---> They bought the flowers themselves, rather than having their husbands buy them on the way home from work.
  3. cooling Member

    France, français
    Yes, that's what I mean :)

    En fait je me demande si on peut traiter "They" comme un collectif facultatif, comme dans un exemple que j'ai trouvé : Anything good has to be said by the staff themself / the staff themselves.

    De mon côté, je fais une différence entre

    The girls did the cookies themselves (chacune séparémen)

    The girls bought the flowers themself (= together, as a group)

    Bref... plus ça va et moins je trouve ça correct. Et pourtant on trouve de nombreux exemples...
  4. Perhonorificus

    Perhonorificus Senior Member

    Montréal (Québec)
    Canada, French
    Je n'ai jamais entendu themself. Soit, certains noms ont un sens collectif, mais on utilisera alors itself, comme dans "The staff itself". C'est au choix.

    Attention, c'est bien "The girls bought the flowers themselves"! Girl n'est pas une entité/un nom collectif.
  5. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    "Themself" se dit souvent, mais pas dans ce contexte-ci. C'est plutôt la forme "réflexive" du "they/them" singulier, utilisé principalement dans le langage parlé, et considéré comme fautif par les puristes-- Donc tu as peut-être appris qu'en Angleterre, on dit plutôt:
    The staff buy the flowers.
    tandis qu'en Amérique on dit:
    The staff buys the flowers.

    Par contre, même en Amérique si tu mets un pronom réfléchi, il faut mettre le verbe au pluriel. Donc des deux côtés de l'Atlantique:
    The staff buy the flowers themselves.
    (pour éviter cette phrase qui nous semble un peu awkward en Amérique, on dirait plutôt: "The staff members buy the flowers themselves")

    "Themself" serait donc utilisé dans une phrase comme:
    "Someone didn't do their homework themself"
    sauf que moi je préférerais dans ce contexte:
    "Someone didn't do their homework themselves"

    et même (si on ne veut pas révéler le genre de la personne dont on parle):
    "The person I am talking about did all the work themself (/themselves, which is a bit awkward...)"

    Here is an interesting post on it:
  6. egremoq Senior Member

    England / English
    "Themself" is not standard or correct English but it is -apparently- occasionally used instead of "himself" or "herself" if the sex of the person is not known or isn't to be identified. (At least, that's what my dictionary says - I can't say I have ever heard it myself!)
  7. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    You should read the thesis by Joel Wallenberg cited in my last post-- "themself" is actually used quite a lot... Maybe not by everybody, but even if you don't use it yourself, you have definitely heard it...
  8. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    "used quite a lot, you say" Strange, but I do not recall ever having heard it, and believe me, I would have noticed it. Still, anything is possible in language.

  9. Calga Member

    'themself' does not really exist in correct English. It may have been recently introduced by 'politically correct' fanatics who find it shorter to use than his or herself, or separately 'himself' or 'herself'.

    It jars terribly on the ear and is grammatically and logically inconsistent. The plural particle 'them' cannot properly refer to a singular entity.

    I hope this is of some help and does not sound confusing.
  10. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    The use of themselves and themself is common in spoken EN-UK at least. The original post They bought the flowers themselves would be understood/interpreted in the UK simply as:-
    "they paid for the flowers and nobody else paid for them" Often said about children spending their pocket money on a present for their mother....
  11. DJDaveMark New Member

    Scottish-English (Scotland)
    To clarify, when it's written down :

    • I work for myself (1st person)
    • You work for yourself (2nd person singular)
    • You work for yourselves (2nd person plural)
    • He works for himself. (3rd person singular male)
    • She works for herself. (3rd person singular female)
    • I know someone who works for themselves. (3rd person singular)
    • I know a nun who works for herself. (3rd person singular (derived sex usually takes precedence))
    • I know a humanist who works for himself. (3rd person singular (the sex of the person is conveyed))
    • They work for themselves. (3rd person singular or plural)
    However, in spoken language (at least in the UK/Australia/New Zealand) you can also say :

    • I know someone who works for themself. (3rd person singular)
    • They work for themself. (3rd person singular or plural)
    ...and we wouldn't even bat an eyelid (notice), let alone correct you !
  12. afbyorb Senior Member

    someone is singular
    themselves is plural
    I know of no one who works for themselves:thumbsdown:

    I have lived in England and I have never heard themself
  13. DJDaveMark New Member

    Scottish-English (Scotland)
    As discussed previously in this thread and sourced here :

    Further clarification from the same place :

    I know of no one who works for themselves :tick:
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 25, 2010
  14. Meyer Wolfsheim Senior Member

    East Egg
    Well, recently I heard (this Tuesday) Craig Scott, the brother of Rachael Scott (the first victim of the Columbine massacre) give an hour and 30 minute presentation and throughout he used "they" for the neuter singular pronoun and "themself" for the neuter singular reflexive pronoun. He has been giving presentations across the country for 11 years.

    edit: To be more on topic, in English I think we overuse the reflexive pronouns to add a modal effect (almost acting like stress pronouns) to a sentence.


    He travelled out to Rhode Island today.

    He (himself) travelled (by himself) out to Rhode Island (himself) today (by himself/himself)

    Each of the parenthesis represents a possible placement of the reflexive pronoun and I may have missed some. The placement of the pronoun effects what the sentence is suggesting modally and even putting a different stress on the pronoun in the same position can alter meaning too!


    He travelled by himself out to Rhode Island today=He went alone to Rhode Island

    He travelled by himself out to Rhode Island today=He went alone to Rhode Island but indicates that the speaker is surprised or did not expect him to go alone out to Rhode Island.

    In case of "themself"/"they" being a singular neuter pronoun, correctly speaking they are not and should never be examined as such. However, spoken English (and even that of prominent public figures -->Craig Scott) is using them as such.

    Grammatically the masculine form should be used when refering to a neuter or unknown gender, preserved in speech only in archaisms/idioms:

    He who hesitates is lost.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2010
  15. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    The mere fact that people say something does not make it correct. Unless we wish to philosophise that the idea of anything (in this case a fault) defines its existence.
    Anyway, THEMSELF is so grammatically incorrect that I would correct anyone (or my children, at least!) who said it in front of me.
  16. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Well you might Spira, but how about this instance:

    "Every student must work alone and be responsible for submitted work xxxself."

    Now, both logic and grammar demand the singular here, but which singular? Himself makes the sexist assumption that we're only interested in male students. Him(self) or herself is downright clumsy.

    No, I'm firmly of the opinion that language is there to serve us, not vice versa, and that any use of language that clarifies meaning is to be welcomed. I'd use themself without hesitation in this instance, even if not in very many others.
  17. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    I like the idea that language is there to serve us and not the opposite (a bit like computers and accountants, really), but I would actually have said Him(self) or herself in your example without feeling clumsy at all.

    In these cases I usually wonder what my mother would have said (born 1926, a middle class Londoner), and I cannot imagin her ever saying themself.
  18. Pierre Simon Senior Member

    Can I join in?

    An OED website (askoxford.com) says this :

    I'm with Keith : it seems ok to me.
  19. Meyer Wolfsheim Senior Member

    East Egg
    Using your logic the English language would have retained all of its case endings, adjective agreements, etc. Should we go back to all of those too? There is an obvious need for a neuter singular pronoun in the language as people have been inventing them. Prescriptivist grammar does not represent the actual language being used to communicate in speech.

    The fact is that many natives examine the use of "they" as a singular neuter, to avoid giving away the gender or other details (important for closeted homosexuals). It still is treated as a plural form however, "they ARE", etc. I have heard "themself" much, but if I find myself in "they", I will use "themselves" still.

    edit: Anyone who claims that the use of male pronouns for neuter gender is completely biogotted and uneducated. The fact is people are always thinking about NATURAL gender in the English language. This "claimed" sexism does not occur in Spanish or other languages which have a preserved gender system. In English if something is "he" it must be a male. Most natives aren't aware of the grammatical gender still present in English (in fact it's all about dead). But to avoid using spoken forms like "they" and "themself/themselves" (yes, I have used "themselves" for the singular neuter pronoun and never have used "themself"), the masculine forms should be used for a neuter or in a last resort the neuter "one/oneself."
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2010
  20. SharkFin New Member

    Laurel, Maryland, USA
    USA, English
    I hope some of you will help me spread this lovely example of they as a 3rd person neutral singular pronoun:

    That if any pson or persons after the saide Feaste of Saint Michaell the Archangell next comeing, shall use practise or exercsise any Invocation or Conjuration of any evill and spirit, or shall consult covenant with entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or pupose ; or take any dead man woman or child out of his her or theire grave or any other place where the dead body resteth…

    Man, woman, or child: his, her, or their. What could be clearer?

    This is an excerpt from the Witchcraft Act of 1604 of King James I of England, a writer and scholar himself as well as the patron of Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Johnson, and of course the translators of the King James Bible. This is ample evidence of over 500 years of they and its inflected forms being used as probably the majority of English speakers use them today.

    Miss Grundy may have told you in 5th grade that only trailer trash “misuse" they this way, and may have tried to whip you into “correct’ and “logical” English usage, but Miss Grundy had her authoritarian head wedged. And it’s her dutiful students who go around saying “between you and I” and writing “the boss’ daughter”, making fools of themselves in striving to obey the arbitrary “rules” of some imagined Authority, forsaking their own ears and common sense.

    I heartily applaud Keith Bradford's sensible remarks on this they matter. For decades I’ve emphasized to college students that – contrary to what Miss Grundy may have had them believe, There ain't no official rulebook of English. French has L'Académie française, but there’s no equivalent for English. And, anyhow, the French themselves laugh at this “pre-eminent learned body on matters pertaining to the French language”, which insists for instance, that “le weekend” is not French.

    What's "correct" in English is always in the end a matter of opinion. Of course, there are some whose opinions arguably carry more weight than others. William Fowler’s Modern English Usage is clearly a work of considerable scholarship, a labor of love. On the other hand there’s the AP Stylebook, whose originators in 1953 were obviously incapable of correctly reading even the very first “rule of elementary usage” in Strunk’s Elements of Style, and twisted it into nonsense that the tabloids all slavishly follow (as do many others, to my dismay).

    Those learning English as another language need less to worry about what is and isn’t “correct” than about what is and isn’t actual English. A sentence like “I ain’t got no money” may be disdained by some as lowbrow, but no one can deny that it is English, tel qu’on le parle. On the other hand, “I the none money have” is not English – not because it’s “incorrect”, but because it’s not what anyone says.

    Every language exhibits elegant logic. But only an artificial language like Esperanto strictly adheres to rigid logical rules. If logic gets in the way of what a language wants to do, the logic gets tossed aside. As Mr. Bradford might put it, the logic is there to serve the language, not vice versa.

    According to the “correctness” and “logic” that Miss Grundy and her ilk claim to abide by, in addition to never saying "Someone called for you but didn't leave their name," we should also make the French say “C’est je” instead of “C’est moi”, and discard the double negatives that have all these centuries been an indispensable part of their tongue.

    Pops Finn
    Winooski Vermont
  21. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Sharkfin, I love your example but it's not absolutely persuasive - a modern writer might use "its grave" for a child.

    However in 1604, its was only just coming into use, so clearly the lawmakers went for the more established term. Glad to know that we've rediscovered the singular their (some of us anyway).

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