Most students are familiar with “By myself.” The average student knows that this expression means “alone.”
But many students don’t know the expression “Yourself (no “By”)” and they don’t know how to use it.
Ex. I went to the movies by myself.
-- vs --
Ex. I cooked this pasta myself.
It’s surprising for learners of English, but there are actually 2 kinds of expressions. And each expression is different from the other.
How? How are they different?
Well, I expect that you are already familiar with “By yourself.” That’s easy enough for you.
A: Did you go shopping last weekend?
B: Yes, I did.
A: Who did you go shopping with?
B: Nobody. I went shopping by myself.
This means that the speaker did the action alone, not together with any other person.
Here are some other examples:
1. I’m independent. I live by myself.
2. Don’t worry. I know that you’re busy today. I can go to the post office by myself.
3. It’s dangerous for a teenager like you to travel abroad by herself.
ON THE OTHER HAND, “Myself” means “Me, not anybody else” or “Using my own skill/ ability.”
Yes, I know that “By myself” and “Myself” have very similar meanings. That’s why they are confusing.
But try and look at the following conversation which practices “Myself.”
A: I heard that you live by yourself (=Ok). I have a question for you. Who cooks your meals?
B: I do. I cook my meals myself. (=using my own ability; not another person)
A: Wow. Well, who does your laundry?
B: I do. I do it myself. (=using my own ability; not another person)
As you might feel, it will be wrong to use “By myself” in our examples above. If we say “I cook my meals by myself,” it means that, originally or usually, people are supposed to cook meals together! This is strange, right?
Also, if we say “I do my laundry by myself,” this means that people often wash clothes together with other people. Again, this is wrong.
If you still don’t get it, try and look at our other examples below:
1. Even though I’m not a computer programmer, I fixed my computer myself. (=me, not a repairperson)
2. You shouldn’t be shy. If you really like her, you should tell her yourself. (=Don’t ask another person to do it)
3. The C.E.O. himself came to the small branch to fix the problem. (=Not a staff member or officer)
In our examples, you can see that “Myself” also emphasizes or makes the Subject stronger.
Ex. The president himself
Finally, it might seem hard to distinguish the small difference between “Myself” and “By myself.” But this small difference is important. If you put the two expressions side by side and contrast them, and then practice with many good example sentences, you'll eventually know how to use both of them.