Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
English vocabulary self centered

Have you ever been accused of being selfish?

Do you instead feel that you are more selfless?

You might notice that there are many words or phrases in English that feature the word “self” in them.

We’re going to look at these words in English, what they mean, and how some may be more positive or negative in their usage and how you can use them in natural English conversations.

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We have a great Instagram question, it’s about the word self.

Hi ladies,

I love your show, and I listen to it all the time! I have a question that I’m hoping you can help me with.I am wondering about the word self.

Would you mind explaining a couple of words that use the word “self” in them? I’m thinking of words such as self-serving, self-centered, and selfish. Are these words all negative in their usage?

Thank you for your help,


Understanding Some Background

This is a great question because there are so many uses for the word “self.”

This word appears within so many other phrases and words, and so it’s a common topic worth looking at.

We’ve done some episodes featuring a couple of these words and ideas.

These episodes are really great and worth checking out.

Check out these episodes for a great background to get you started on this topic.

As you will see this word and this sort of topic used a lot, you want to have a good background to get started with.

Many Different Associations For One Word

Clearly the word “self” is an important one in English as you can see it appears frequently in conversation.

You have a bit of background on this, and now it’s all about thinking through the words associated with it.

We’re going to review all of the words associated with “self” as there are many of them.

There are some words and phrases that have a positive connotation and some that have a positive connotation, and it’s important to understand all of them.

There are slight differences, but they are very similar as they appear in the words.

You want to know what these words are, how to use them, which tend to be negative or positive, and how to use these in conversations.

Looking At The More Negative Words In This Area

There are so many words and phrases that feature the word self.

This may be because it’s a part of our culture, or it may even indicate that we are self centered.

Either way, you want to understand what these words are and how to use them–so let’s take a look at some of the most common words in this area.

These are the words that have a more negative connotation with them, and they are important to know.

Though they may not be meant in a negative way, they are often at least interpreted that way.

  • Selfish: This means that you want everything only for yourself. You put your own needs or wants before that of anybody else. You could say “Don’t be selfish. You can’t have all the candy!”
  • Self-serving: This is very similar to selfish, but it is usually more about an action. You are doing something to serve your own best interests above anybody else. You might hear something like “She may seem nice, but what she did was very self-serving.”
  • Self-centered: This is more about actual ego and may be part of your personality. You may encounter somebody who only talks about and thinks about themselves and nobody else. You could say “Do you see how many pictures they post of themselves? They are so self-centered!” 

When you see these words and their meanings, you may wonder if they are purely negative.

Is it bad to be these things?

Not necessarily as it depends on the circumstances and the way in which the word is used for you.

What is the difference between one of these negative words and just being confident? 

Though they may have a more negative connotation associated with them, that doesn’t mean that they are always negative in every single instance.

They tend to be more negative, but this is especially true when you look at them compared to the more positive words in this area.

The More Positive Words In This Area

There are other words and phrases that feature the word “self” which may be more positive in nature.

These are the words that you often see associated with a positive action or personality trait.

These give you a good positive feeling, and they may even be something that you want to aspire to.

  • Selfless: This means that you do things for other people above yourself. It usually means that you are generous and kind, and that you put other people’s needs before your own. This is a very positive personality trait, and one that many of us strive for. You might say “My parents are extremely selfless.”
  • Self-made man or woman: This usually refers to an entrepreneur, or someone who has achieved success on their own accord. This is often said about somebody who has been very successful and created an empire all on their own. You could say “If you want to talk to a real self-made woman, talk to my friend Beth. She has a huge empire now and is the CEO of her own business.”
  • Self-care: This is simple but important, as it’s about taking care of yourself. This is so important particularly in dealing with stress in your day. You need to do things for yourself which will help you to improve your mental and emotional well being. You might say “Sometimes I just set up a hot bath or read a book as part of my self care routine.”

These words all have positive meanings or associations and so they can make you feel good.

These may be the types of things that you aspire to do or to be in your own life.

You can start to see just how many words use “self” in them, and therefore why it’s such an important topic to truly understand.


The word self is very prevalent in the English language.

It doesn’t always have to do with something negative, though some expressions and phrases definitely do.

We have shown you both here today so that you have an understanding of these.

Try these out today and see how they feel in conversation, because they definitely have a place.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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