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oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com:
(1) He has a sense of grandeur about him. — I can't understand why (1) is correct.
my variant:
(2) He has a sense of grandeur about himself. — It seems to me (2) is the only correct variant.

Why is (1) correct?
What is the difference between (1) and (2)?

2 Answers 2

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If you look at some of the written instances of...

He had a sense of grandeur about him

...it should be reasonably clear that in most if not all of them, the primary point being made is that people around him had that perception (but feasibly the subject himself wasn't even consciously aware of this). On the other hand, if you look at written instances of...

He had a sense of grandeur about himself

...I think you'll agree that they mostly refer to the subject's own perception of himself, and/or the image he wishes to project.


TL;DR: The (far less common) option of using a reflexive pronoun in such contexts puts more focus on how the subject presents himself.

The normal non-reflexive pronoun works better for the more common nuance (how other people perceive him).

Consequently, it's perfectly possibly to say of something "non-sentient" (such as Darwin's Theory of Evolution) that there's a sense of grandeur about it. But you'll probably never encounter a sense of grandeur about itself.

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  • But would "himself" in the original sentence be used by a native speaker in any context? I would probably say either "He tried to evoke/project a sense of grandeur" or "He thought/believed he had a sense of grandeur about him" depending on what we are trying to express. Mar 20, 2023 at 4:09
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    @AndrewSavinykh yes, a native English speaker will use "He had a sense of grandeur about himself". The sentence " "He thought/believed he had a sense of grandeur about him" refers to someone else. "He tried to evoke/project a sense of grandeur" is about what he tried to do, not what he thought about himself (for example, pretending to be upper class when he knows he's lower class).
    – RonJohn
    Mar 20, 2023 at 7:53
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    I think the issue is "about", which has two different meanings in the two lines. Respectively: "around" and "relating to".
    – fectin
    Mar 20, 2023 at 12:19
  • @fectin: That's hardly "the issue". The word "about" has a huge range of possible meanings, which is what allows the actual issue being queried (the difference between the simple or the reflexive pronoun) without the irrelevant distraction of some other changes to the text. There wouldn't really be grounds for a question at all if OP asked about the difference between He gives out a sense grandeur about himself and He is perceived as having a sense of grandeur about him... Mar 20, 2023 at 17:34
  • ...but your comment implies OP should easily understand the difference between He had a sense of grandeur around him and He had a sense of grandeur relating to himself. Or perhaps that should be around himself and relating to him (I've no idea which way round you think those two prepositional elements should go to resolve the ambiguity! :) Or indeed whether you think both versions could still be easily distinguished by which prepositional elements they use, with the him / himself choice making no difference at all (which you may think, but I certainly don't). Mar 20, 2023 at 17:39
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An analogue might be valuable, because it has concrete nouns (the sense of grandeur is more abstract):

The mountain had a wreath of cloud about it.

Whereas with a more active verb, we might use the reflexive:

The mountain drew the clouds close to itself.


It's possible that the confusion might be to do with the word "about", which here (and in the question) means "surrounding" - not its other meaning of "relating to" (which tends to attract the reflexive pronoun more often).

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