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Why is "them" more appropriate than "themselves" in the following sentence, even though what comes after with ("them") is the same as the subject ("They")?

They are taking all the system building blocks with them.

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    Check your subject and object again. "They" are the subject, but what is the object of "taking"?
    – Katy
    Jan 9, 2023 at 5:52
  • Thank you! What I meant was that "what comes after with" is the same as the subject of the sentence. So it seemed to me after "with" we should use "themselves" instead of "them." What am I missing here?
    – H D
    Jan 9, 2023 at 8:03
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    We don't use a reflexive pronoun in the context of accompanying. "I brought [someone/something] with me." Jan 9, 2023 at 8:55
  • @KateBunting Thank you. It was helpful! Is there a list of scenarios where reflexive pronouns should be used? I currently know of two: (i) Object the same as subject (Example: He asked himself why he is doing this). (ii) The word after "to" the same as the subject (Example: He sent a letter to himself).
    – H D
    Jan 9, 2023 at 9:50
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    I found this website which you may find helpful. Jan 9, 2023 at 10:10

3 Answers 3

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We use 'themselves' when we are setting 'them' apart from anyone else.

For example:

They are moving house and transporting their furniture themselves.

In this example, 'themselves' is used to show that 'they' are actually taking on the task of moving their own furniture, rather than the common practice of employing someone else to do it for them. It is notable that they are doing it themselves, not anyone else.

That isn't what is going on in your example. 'They' are taking the building blocks. The expression to take something with oneself means that you take it along with you, for example when you leave somewhere it leaves with you. It adds detail about the manner in which you take it. It doesn't exist to suggest that you are taking it apart from anyone else doing so.

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Many publishers try to have authors rephrase the sentence to avoid reflexive pronouns. Saguaro Books, my publishing house, also tries to avoid reflexive pronouns. Harbrace College Handbook Thirteenth edition.

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As mentioned on this wonderful website, an object pronoun, and not a reflexive, should be used with "with" when it means "accompanied by."

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