Use of Singular “Ourself”

I ran into an interesting colloquialism listening to an interviewer from a miner turned federal mine inspector. In this quote she refers to miners needing to educate themselves on mine safety:

Each one of us needs to make ourself more knowledgable.

That’s right – the reflexive “ourself” is singular even though it’s a second person plural pronoun. This was a new one for me, but actually consistent with other aspects of spoken grammar. As you might guess, this is not “correct grammar”, but actually within this dialect perfectly correct. Examining the sentence, you notice that the speaker is using a distributed plural meaning that each member acts individually, hence on his or her own (or in colloquial English…”on their own.”

I am reasonably confident that if the speaker had said “We have to work together to make ____ knowledgeable”, the pronoun would probably have been “ourselves”.We rarely distinguish this in formal English except sometimes in singular/plural direct objects:

The team members need to bring their trophy (“trophy” singular).
The team members need to bring their uniforms (“uniform” plural)

But spoken English is more subtle about the distinction. Another example on the Web was “Then we will have to do it on our own/by ourself.” Of course, this was immediately corrected by a grammar expert. But interestingly, the first speaker was quite perplexed as to why one couldn’t use “by ourself.”

I have to admit that my grammar has a singular “themself” which specifically refers to an unknown individual (replacing the more cumbersome “himself or herself”). My grammar also has singular “they” instead of the formal “him or her” as well as singular “their” replacing “his or her”. As in:

Anyone who looks at themself (himself/herself) on camera all day will be concerned about appearance.
Anyone living away from parents will eventually have to do their own laundry.

When I write, I am careful to use the plural consistently so that I can use true plural “they” (since I refuse to default to “himself”). However, the more precise grammar is the spoken grammar which distinguishes distributed plurals (members acting independently) from plurals in which members act collaboratively.

Royal “Ourself”

There is an official version of “ourself” defined in Merriam-Webster which is the reflexive of the Royal We used by a monarch. So if the monarch wishes to dine alone, he/she (or they) might say “We will dine by ourself this evening.” However, I am not sure that the Royal We is used much in current English. Even the Queen of England in interviews appears to refer to herself as “one” rather than any first person.

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