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This is the dialogue from my English textbook between a mom and her kid:

Mom: I'm going to be home late tonight. I have to go and visit Grandma after work.

Kid: What time will you be home?

Mom: I'll be home after dinner. I'm sorry, but you'll have to cook dinner yourself.

Is there any difference in meaning if I replace 'cook dinner yourself' with 'cook dinner by yourself'? (For me, 'cook dinner by yourself' means cook dinner alone, but I'm not sure if that sounds correct in the ears of native English speakers.)

3 Answers 3

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The primary difference for me is in the implication of the original expectation for the cooking process:

"You'll have to cook dinner yourself": This implies that the original plan was for someone else to cook the dinner. (Specifically, you were not going to participate in the cooking.) Now, you have to cook (with no assistance) instead of not cooking at all.

"You'll have to cook dinner by yourself": This implies that the original plan was for both people to participate in the cooking process. Now, you have to cook with no assistance instead of cooking with assistance (or being the assistant).

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    +1 I like this answer better than my own even though both answers could be correct.
    – Jammin4CO
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 20:05
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To a native speaker, 'by yourself' is slightly more ambiguous, but both would be understood well. I understand:

Cook dinner yourself

as meaning, 'cook dinner without my help', while

Cook dinner by yourself

could either mean 'cook dinner without my help' or 'cook dinner alone'.

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    It may be note worthy that "Cook dinner yourself" is worded in the same way as many other phrases when commanding someone to do so. In this specific context, it does not matter, but in other contexts, it could be interpreted as a command rather than a suggestion or stating a fact.
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 21:22
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I'm not sure of the family dynamic, but cook dinner yourself implies that a sibling or other family member may be there who will not be cooking. Cook dinner by yourself implies the family unit is just the two of them.

Therefore either could be true.

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