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I read many times that one shouldn't say: "I feel myself well/badly" etc, because it's incorrect and the native speakers think that you're saying about touching yourself or masturbating.

But recently I've read this kind of phrase: "Scarcely had they left Moscow when they felt themselves quieter immediately"

Is it an erroneous phrase? If not, when can one say "I feel myself" or "They feel themselves"?

  • Can you tell us where you "met" this phrase? (See Why you should cite your source on meta.) I wouldn't expect to hear someone say something like your example, but I would not be surprised to find it in literature, particularly in a work written about a century ago. – J.R. Nov 6 '19 at 19:53
  • Sorry, I meant "I've read this kind of phrase". I've read it in my textbook by a Russian author, which wouldn't say much to anybody, except that that phrase wasn't written by a native speaker. – Rusletov Nov 6 '19 at 19:59
  • Please consider the advice in "Not so fast!." If you hold the question open a few days, you might get several perspectives, which might further clarify this kind of construction. No guarantees, though. – Ben Kovitz Nov 6 '19 at 23:10
  • Excuse me, but I simply do not believe you. You have "read many times" that I feel myself well/badly is incorrect? In all my years, I cannot imagine where you have read that many times. Because it's not English at all. And I doubt it can be found in many places other than right here. – Lambie Nov 6 '19 at 23:15
  • I just found a question that I thought might shed some light on yours, but now I see that it doesn't include the reflexive pronoun. Here it is, though: "Feel independent…". This ELL search and this Google Books search (and similar searches) might have something useful. – Ben Kovitz Nov 6 '19 at 23:23
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Is it an erroneous phrase?

It's not common, that's for sure. I would say it's erroneous in that it's missing the word "get", or "become": "they felt themselves get quieter". But even then, that would leave a native speaker thinking about your choice of words rather than what you're saying.

when can one say "I feel myself" or "They feel themselves"?

The "feel" in this sentence structure is usually referring to a physical feeling. If you just say "I feel myself", that usually means that you are touching your own body. Lacking context, that can easily be understood sexually.

If you say "I feel myself [something]", that something would be something physical, but involuntary - not something you are intentionally doing. For example, "I felt myself fall asleep."

Or even something that you are "intentionally" doing, but feel powerless to stop. For example, an alcoholic saying "I felt myself reaching for another drink."

Or you could say something like "I feel myself getting angry". That would be understood to mean that you have noticed the physical responses that go along with being angry before you realized that you are actually angry.

And that is the problem with "they felt themselves quieter immediately" - "quieter" is not a physical feeling, it's auditory. A native speaker would more likely say:

  • "They heard themselves get quieter", or
  • "They noticed themselves get quieter"

I'm a native English speaker from Canada.

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