Pronouns are a useful tool that writers use to make sentences more fluid by avoiding redundancy. Instead of writing, for instance, “Gregory left Gregory’s house and got into Gregory’s car to go to Gregory’s job,” we can simply write, “Gregory left the house and got into his car to go to work.”
Reflexive pronouns are a specific type of pronoun that are useful under certain conditions, but they can be confusing, too. Many people aren’t sure whether to use themselves or theirselves as a plural reflexive pronoun.
What is the Difference Between Themselves and Theirselves?
In this article, I will compare themselves vs. theirselves. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence. Plus, I will show you a memory tool that you can use to decide whether to use theirselves or themselves in your own writing.
When to Use Themselves
What does themselves mean? Themselves is a plural pronoun. Since it is used reflexively, it is used in contexts where the subject of a sentence is also its object. And since it is plural, it refers to more than one person.
- They fooled themselves into thinking they could win, but they never had a chance.
- “Who will guard the guards themselves?” goes the old Latin proverb.
Other reflexive pronouns include himself, herself, and myself. Reflexive pronouns can be used as intensive pronouns, where they add emphasis or specify who will do something.
- The Republicans themselves did not expect to win the 2016 presidential election.
Many languages have reflexive pronouns, including Chinese, Spanish, French, Hungarian, and Slovene.
In English, reflexive pronouns are sometimes used non-reflexively, especially in professional writing.
Consider the phrasing,
- Please CC myself and Donna on the email.
This usage is nonstandard and should be avoided; yet it is becoming increasingly common.
A more graceful phrasing would be,
- Please CC Donna and I on the email.
When to Use Theirselves
What does theirselves mean? Theirselves is a dialect form of themselves that is widely shunned and rarely crops up in written English.
It is slightly more common to hear spoken than written, but even in spoken English, the use of theirselves is a marker of poor English.
Consider this chart that graphs theirselves vs. themselves in written English since 1800.
The usage of theirselves in written English is so low as to approximate zero.
In his book Garner’s Modern English Usage, Bryan Garner estimates the disparity to be 3,182:1—a huge gap! In other words, you really shouldn’t ever use theirselves. It’s a marker of poor English skills.
You should avoid theirselves, especially in professional and academic writing. Themselves is the better choice.
Trick to Remember the Difference
Since one of these words is never correct, it’s easy to remember themselves vs. theirselves.
- Themselves is the correct word.
- Theirselves is nonstandard.
A way to remember this is that their is possessive. Since reflexive pronouns are not used to indicate possession, it should be easy to remember that themselves is the correct form of this word.
Is it themselves or theirselves? Themselves and theirselves are two variations of a reflexive pronoun that refers to a group of people.
- Themselves is the standard, correct version and occurs more than 3,000 times more frequently than theirselves.
- Theirselves is rare in spoken English and incredibly rare in written English.