Definition of self in US English:


nounPlural selves

  • 1A person's essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

    ‘our alienation from our true selves’
    in singular ‘guilt can be turned against the self’
    ‘language is an aspect of a person's sense of self’
    • ‘It's complicated stuff, and invariably lets us down by revealing our true selves, often at the most crucial of times.’
    • ‘Were there others she knew whose appearances deceived their true selves?’
    • ‘Now I gently introduce others to their intuition and often their true selves.’
    • ‘That's where things fell apart, and they didn't really show their true selves.’
    • ‘The most important thing reading does for us, she concludes, is to give us a sense of our true selves, to reclaim us from the world.’
    • ‘To exist simultaneously as two selves, two persons, may have been Lowell's greatest wish.’
    • ‘Even if they do, it is clear that it is as conscious, human animals that we gain a sense of our individuality and selves.’
    • ‘We've heard it before and we'll probably keep on hearing it for as long as we all buy into this idea that in growing up we lose our innocence and fall out of touch with our true selves.’
    • ‘Our true selves are out there in the marketplace, ready to wear, see, listen, and eat.’
    • ‘Now the agonies focused less on Peggy's behaviors than on Moore's yearning for her own true self.’
    • ‘Too often in the wider sphere they act like troubled ghosts of their true selves.’
    • ‘There are times when others can hold up the mirror and show us our true selves.’
    • ‘I look at myself in the mirror, and while this is not a bad self as far as selves go, it isn't who I know I'm supposed to be.’
    • ‘He understood me and I didn't have to hide my true self from him.’
    • ‘Your friendship will be way more intriguing if you and your bud get in touch with your true inner selves.’
    • ‘Where you expect to find your true inner self, you will come face-to-face with a mob of strangers.’
    • ‘In many cultures people have multiple souls or selves that migrate from one body to another.’
    • ‘When we allow people to know the real us we risk rejection and for many we would rather paint our true selves than face heartbreak.’
    • ‘We disperse ourselves into our many social roles, and as a consequence, we are not linked to our true selves.’
    • ‘This is the year in which people find their true selves.’
    1. 1.1with adjective A person's particular nature or personality; the qualities that make a person individual or unique.
      ‘by the end of the round he was back to his old self’
      ‘Paula seemed to be her usual cheerful self’
      • ‘You really need to help him exercise his better self.’
      • ‘In Algebra II the next day, Jason was his usual cheerful self.’
      • ‘The writing self (the author) is different from the living self (the person).’
      • ‘Once the glitter is gone, you are back to your old self.’
      • ‘She was never her old, cheerful self anymore.’
      • ‘Despite my lack of sleep, I think I'm back to my old self again.’
      • ‘She'll more than likely be back to her old self before you know it - and she should appreciate that you've been so cool about it.’
      • ‘He's being his usual charming self, as he always is when medical personnel are trying to help him.’
      • ‘By some combination of his own sheer determination, the wonderful work of colleagues, and the support of his family, he seemed back to his old self again.’
      • ‘All's intact if you can be your usual charming self.’
      • ‘Martin had returned to his usual, cheerful self, and seemed inclined to pretend nothing had happened, which suited Wendy.’
      • ‘More than that, Australia is positioned as not merely America's partner but her better self.’
      • ‘Each person brings into the school his or her unique self.’
      • ‘I started out quiet and introverted, then I blossomed a bit, then I went back to my old self.’
      • ‘It's great to see that he is now fully recovered and back to his old self.’
      • ‘She smiled, and apparently returned to her usual cheerful self.’
      • ‘I was wondering when you would get back to your old self.’
      • ‘I only said to him last night that he was back to his normal, bubbly self.’
      • ‘It took work and time but I got back to my old self.’
      • ‘He was in a great deal of pain and found it difficult to be his old, cheery self.’
    2. 1.2 One's own interests or pleasure.
      ‘to love in an unpossessive way implies the total surrender of self’
      • ‘For some it is the pursuit of money and possessions, but for others it could be the love of self or pleasure, the god of fashion, driving ambition, or something else that controls our thinking and actions.’
      • ‘Political stability can equally only be achieved when political parties place national interests above self.’
      • ‘For the unscrupulous, office might give access to large profits or the manipulation of power in the interests of self, friends, or family.’
      • ‘In it, she draws from the Greek myth of Narcissus, the young man who falls in love with his own reflection, and plays with that notion of desire and passion for self.’
    3. 1.3with adjective one's self Used ironically to refer to oneself or someone else.
      ‘the only side worth supporting is your own sweet self’
      • ‘I'm so sorry that so many people met your sorry selves one morning in July, and for the memories you have resurrected within me.’


  • attributive (of a trimming or cover) of the same material and color as the rest of the item.

    ‘a dress with self belt’
    • ‘Other features include two end zippered compartments, front self pocket, and back mesh pocket.’
    • ‘Instead of the usual little back belt, why not add an entire placket that is laced up with tubes of self fabric?’


[with object]Botany
  • 1Self-pollinate; self-fertilize.

    ‘a variety that selfs itself loses lots of vigor in the progeny’
    • ‘Inflorescences of flowering plants were selfed and isolated with bags.’
    • ‘Accessions generally consist of seed multiplied by selfing a single initial wild-collected individual.’
    • ‘Although not in a significant proportion, seeds produced by selfing often show a bimodal weight distribution, with about one-quarter of seeds lighter than others (data not shown).’
    • ‘Flowers of all species under study were selfed to determine the time taken by pollen tubes to reach the ovules.’
    1. 1.1usually as adjective selfedGenetics Cause (an animal or plant) to breed with or fertilize one of the same hybrid origin or strain.
      ‘progeny were derived from selfed crosses’
      • ‘A resulting triple-heterozygous resistant-susceptible plant, i.e., a heterozygous plant at the three resistance loci, was isolated and selfed to produce the 27 expected genotypes described in Table 1.’
      • ‘From each of the heterozygotes for nonlethal chromosomes, 40 selfed progeny were obtained.’
      • ‘The hybrid plants, used as the female parents, were back-crossed with H. polyrhizus and S. megalanthus, crossed with the diploid H. undatus, or selfed.’
      • ‘These 648 plants, representing selfed progenies of irradiated maize chromosome 9 monosomic addition line plants, were screened for the presence or absence of maize DNA.’
      • ‘In order to study the inheritance of cytomixis, the cytomictic plants were selfed and crossed as both male and female parents with one of the five control plants under controlled conditions.’


Old English, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch zelf and German selbe. Early use was emphatic, expressing the sense ‘(I) myself’, ‘(he) himself’, etc. The verb dates from the early 20th century.