When I say "ourselves", am I talking about us together, separate or it actually depends on the context?


In the context of a project that involves many people I am talking with a colleague about the work that has to be done. But I am not sure whether we should meet to work together or work independently.

The I ask this person:

Should we work by ourselves?

This person understands that I was meaning "only the two of us without more people from the team". But I meant "each of us separately".

Is it ambiguous or one is the typical interpretation?

(I saw many questions about "ourselves", but none asking this particular thing, sorry if it's a dup.)

  • 1
    It sounds like two teams. Should each of us work by ourselves.
    – Lambie
    Nov 27, 2018 at 18:15

1 Answer 1


"Ourselves" is ambiguous in this context. You could express your intended meaning more clearly with a different word choice or by contrasting against a more clear alternative.

Should we work individually?

Should we work by ourselves or together?

This ambiguity does not only apply to "ourselves", but also to "we". It is not clear whether "we" refers just to you and the listener as a pair, or to the entire team. Again, the only way to resolve this ambiguity is to reword the sentence.

Should you and I work individually?

Should the whole team work individually?

  • Ok, I understand. I knew that we was ambiguous, in the same way that you is. But I thought that there were maybe some association between 'self` and alone somehow.
    – myradio
    Nov 27, 2018 at 20:44

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