4

macmillandictionary.com:
(1) I need a cup of tea to revive me!
my variant:
(2) I need a cup of tea to revive myself!

What's the difference between them?

5
  • 2
    "Myself" is better. This is a standard, textbook use of the reflexive pronoun as direct object of verb.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 19, 2023 at 13:06
  • 6
    I can't see any reason to suppose it's "better" to use the explicitly reflexive pronoun. It's not like you need it to clarify the meaning. The general principle is nearly always "Simplest is best", and according to this NGram we're much more likely to use the "flat" pronoun in the same context with [I need a] drink to loosen me. Jun 19, 2023 at 13:29
  • 1
    This question reminds me of how I discovered many years ago that some managers in companies I worked for seriously believed it was useful to analyze how many different coding constructions their programmers used (on the basis that "More is better"). After that I always made a point of telling them the truth was probably the opposite. Variation for the sake of it is usually at best pointless (and at worst seriously confusing) for both programming and natural languages. Jun 19, 2023 at 13:46
  • 3
    @FumbleFingers Can I hop in and play devil's advocate? There's a case to be made that a programmer who uses hashmaps for everything is probably not doing better than a programmer who uses hashmaps when hashmaps suit the problem at hand, and heaps for other problems, and some other data structure for yet other problems. Or with a metaphor: there is a toolbox, there are different problems - being able to choose the most-approriate tool can be better than always using the one tool one is most familiar with.
    – Stef
    Jun 19, 2023 at 21:31
  • 1
    @Stef: Indeed. Most pithily summarised by If Your Only Tool is a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail! Jun 19, 2023 at 23:50

2 Answers 2

5

The two sentences look similar and have similar functions, but the grammar is quite different.

In the first sentence, the grammatical structure is [ "need" + object + "to" + base form ] meaning roughly, need the object to do that action. So this sentence means something like, "A cup of tea can revive me, and I need that to happen." There's no reflexive here, because the tea is doing the action, not the subject. The subject, "I" merely needs the tea to do its job. Also, there's nothing about purpose, which there is in the second sentence.

There are two separate grammatical structures in the second sentence: [ "need" + object ] and [ "(in order) to" + base form ]. The first simply indicates a need for an object, and the second indicates purpose. So that sentence means something like, "I want to revive myself, and I need a cup of tea in order to do that." Here, the action is reflexive because the subject "I" wants to do something to themselves, and requires a cup of tea.

2
  • The second interpretation is of course also possible with the non-reflexive pronoun: “In order [for some general notion] to revive me, I need a cup of tea” vs “In order [for me] to revive myself, I need a cup of tea”. The tea example is a bit contrived in the non-reflexive sense here; a more natural-sounding parallel would be, “We need friends to make us happy”, where it's the reflexive version (“We need friends to make ourselves happy”) that's less natural. Jun 19, 2023 at 23:39
  • I think in something like I need a physiotherapist to loosen me / myself up, choosing to use the reflexive form implies speaker thinks of himself as the primary motivator. So he uses the physiotherapist to achieve his goal, as opposed to the physiotherapist helping him. Jun 20, 2023 at 11:10
5

There's no difference in meaning, and both forms are in common use...

enter image description here

At least a few of the non-reflexive matches will be preceded by a main clause whose subject is not the speaker (John poured a drink to calm me), where the reflexive form doesn't work. But that won't be enough to affect the main message of the chart.


There's no debate about the choice with...

1: I need to drink to calm myself
2: I need a counselor to calm me

Linguistically speaking, the speaker is both "agent" and "patient" in #1, but counselor introduces an "external" agent in #2. That's primarily what determines whether we use a reflexive pronoun or not. And a cup of tea falls somewhere in between those two relationships, making "reflexiveness" a stylistic choice.


TL;DR: This isn't a context where you need to use a reflexive pronoun. So make life easy (for yourself! :) and don't bother with it.

9
  • 1
    I'm not trying to win an argument here. Anyone can use whichever version they like. I'm just pointing out that many (majority, or significant minority, who cares?) native speakers don't bother with the reflexive form. Why would a learner want to learn when he can use it, if that just means he now has to watch out for contexts where he can't use it? Such as my John poured a drink... example above. Jun 19, 2023 at 13:55
  • "Why would you bother with more than the bare minimum?" is a weird take on a learning platform. Jun 20, 2023 at 8:35
  • How are you so certain that "that won't be enough to affect the main message of the chart"? The "[other person] poured a drink to calm me" usage seems like it would be much more common than the "I poured a drink to calm me" usage. Jun 20, 2023 at 9:48
  • @ToivoSäwén: Okay, I admit using that chart was lazy. As a native speaker, I know perfectly well that the non-reflexive pronoun is fine in OP's exact context - but the reason for this is a bit tricky to pin down. Realistically there's no debate about the choice with #1: I need to drink to calm myself and #2: I need a counselor to calm me. Linguistically speaking, speaker is both "agent" and "patient" in #1, but counselor is a third-part agent in #2. And a cup of tea falls somewhere in between those two relationships, so "reflexive" is a stylistic choice. Jun 20, 2023 at 10:50
  • While "a drink to calm myself" may, technically be correct and acceptable, to me (a native American English speaker), it would immediately flag the speaker as either a non-native speaker or the rather pompous Charles Emerson Winchester III.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 20, 2023 at 11:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .