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Scholars who think about monsters have long noted that vampires and zombies reveal something to us about ourselves and about our humanity (The Washington Post).

But what about a sentence like this:

Talk to them about themselves.

The context could be that they like to talk with people about themselves, and so the speaker is informing the addressee about this. Or it could be that the speaker intends to say that the addressee should talk with them first about their affairs (like a father talking something over with his child).

Regardless, if the meaning is that the addressee should talk about them when he is talking with them, should a reflexive pronoun ("themselves") be used after "about" in a sentence like that or an objective one ("them")?

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  • Not sure exactly what you are driving at but Talk to them about them is going to be very confusing. Is that what your problem is?
    – mdewey
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 15:41
  • @mdewey, I mean a sentence like the one I copied from the Washington Post article, a pronoun that refers to another pronoun that is the object (not the subject) of the sentence. Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 16:22
  • I found an example of what I have in mind online. "Then, when he reaches out for a cuddle and more, enjoy it, but later talk to him about him: how work’s going, how he’s feeling, etc." Yet I do not know if it would acceptable to say "talk to him about himself, like the phrase on the WP. Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 16:29
  • There's no special rules about reflexive pronouns referring to other pronouns, whether subject or object. Is that what you're looking for clarity on?
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 17:35
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    I would definitely say "talk to him about himself". In your question, it's unclear who all the theys are. Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 18:44

2 Answers 2

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"Talk to them about themselves" is a correct, natural and unambiguous sentence.

In the context you've provided, it means you're suggesting talking to some people on the topic of those same people.

"Talk to them about them", without the reflexive pronoun is clear enough in the context, so you could use that too, but "themselves" is preferred.

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  • This answer might tell you what you wanted to hear, but given the context of your original example, I'd have to say this is extremely misleading.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 8:48
  • @Astralbee Can you say more about that?
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 16, 2022 at 16:24
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In short, no.

As it stands "talk to them about themselves" is pretty meaningless. For a start, when you use any pronoun you need to define who 'they' are. Who is doing the talking, who are they talking to, and if both parties are 'they' it might not even be clear who is meant by themselves'. In a sentence like "parents talk to children about themselves" one would assume that the parents were talking about themselves to the children, which is the opposite of your original quotation which is ultimately about self-reflection and learning about oneself rather than telling others about oneself.

Further, in your original quotation, 'ourselves' is the widest possible use of the term and means all of humanity. The speaker would naturally be including themselves among humanity, but they couldn't do that by using 'they' or 'them'.

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  • Thanks for the helpful answer! :) But what about an imperative? I linked in a reply here an online article where the writer advises the female reader to "talk to him [your boyfriend] about him [your boyfriend]," meaning that the reader's boyfriend would enjoy being talking to about himself. Can the author's sentence be switched to "Talk to him / your boyfriend about himself"? I couldn't find any source that mentions whether pronouns should be reflexive if they are bound to the object (him/your boyfriend) rather than the subject (you). Commented Oct 15, 2022 at 17:35

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