Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Michelle Kaplan
"The New York Radio Girl"

Do you handle tasks by yourself or do you get somebody to do them for you?

If you own a home, are you somebody who likes Do It Yourself type of projects?

Today we’re looking at different ways to talk about doing something yourself or on your own, as this may come up quite a bit in conversation.

Though you may see subtle differences in the ways to say this, they are all important and therefore you want to consider how each of these works.

We will go through all of this and show you what to use based on context, because that matters greatly here.

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Today, we have a really good question that will make you think, so it’s a great one.

Hi ladies,

I’m taking the business course right now and it’s amazing! Thank you for your team effort, I always learn so much! This is actually my second time reaching out to ask you a question. So my question for today is what’s the difference between “Do it yourself” and “Do it by yourself”?

Let me tell you about my situation to think of this question. My 5-year-old son always asks me to pour the milk in his glass at breakfast, and I want him to try it on his own. When I ask him to do that, should I use “by” or does that not work there? I know there’s a right way to say this, and I want to be sure that I know what that is.

I appreciate you taking the time to read my question, and I appreciate any help that you can provide.

All the best,

Ayako Nakayama

Understanding How This Works

This is a great question as it’s about a common sort of phrase.

Not only that, but it shows what a difference there can be with the way you say something.

There are some general guidelines with this, but then there is also context.

Let’s start with context because it matters greatly here.

  • Do it yourself: This is generally used in a different way, and usually speaks to a project you are doing in your home. You may also hear DIY to stand for Do It Yourself. For example you might say “I bought some really great “do it yourself” art activities that I will work on this summer.” Another example would be “IKEA is known for its “do it yourself” furniture.”

When a kid uses it, such as in Ayako’s question though this may be a different usage altogether.

Would you tell a kid “do it yourself?”

This sounds very direct and if it’s not the right context or relationship then it may not be taken well.

Kids generally say things like “I did it all by myself!”

So when talking to a child, you might say “Can you do it by yourself?” or “Yay, you did it by yourself!”

  • By myself: This is saying that you are doing it alone. It may even make you think of a song “All By Myself.” In this instance you may be saying that you are going to take something on alone. A child may say this, but this certainly works for an adult here as well.

Let’s get a little bit deeper because there is another thing to consider here.

There’s one final example of how you might express this sort of thing.

  • Do it oneself: This has more of an emphasis on not asking for help, and instead you may be paying for help. For example, you may ask somebody if they shoveled the snow on their own or if someone did it for them. You could say “Do you shovel the snow by yourself?” The difference here is pretty minor, but that is the slight difference helps to differentiate and works in this situation.

You can see that the differences are slight, but they each work in different ways.

These all work well in conversation in their own way, and you can start to understand when you might use them.

Some Examples To Look At

We’re going to look at a few different examples and small roleplays to help you really understand how this can work.

There are a couple of different angles to look at this from and use it with, so let’s look at a few examples.

In this first example, Lindsay and Michelle are friends talking through things because the relationship matters here.

Lindsay: “Wow Michelle, look at your nails! Did you go to get them done?”

Michelle: “Thanks! No, I did them myself.”

You can also use this as a sort of command, almost like a do it yourself. This sounds more direct in nature, but it can work in the right situation.

Lindsay: “Should I ask someone to help us change the tires?”

Michelle: “Umm, I think you should do it yourself. We’re trying to save money.”

You can also use “do it by oneself, and this basically means do it alone.

You could say this sort of thing in a couple of different ways as you can see in these examples.

“I like to take a walk by myself every morning. It let’s me clear my mind before starting the day.”

“I need to do my homework by myself, away from everyone. Otherwise, I get distracted.”

Let’s look at some more roleplays as they can really help here.

In this next example, Lindsay and Michelle are acquaintances and they are getting their dogs groomed in the same place.

Lindsay: “When do you take Lucky on a walk?”

Michelle: “Oh I usually just go by myself before all the dogs start roaming around. My kids are too lazy to get up and walk the dog with me, too!”

You can say it as a command if it’s the right situation and relationship.

It could also be friendlier, such as if a parent is doing it.

Here’s one final example and way of using this sort of phrase that can help you when you’re in the situation.

Here the two are coworkers talking through a work issue.

Lindsay: “Do you need help with the project?”

Michelle: “No, it’s ok.”

Lindsay: “Well, I feel bad if you do it by yourself this late at night! Want some company?”

There is so much more we could do with this such as using myself or yourself in these types of situations.

We got into some of the basics, so it’s a good start for a sometimes complicated area.

Roleplay To Help

In this longer roleplay, Lindsay and Michelle are roommates and they realized that their sink isn’t working.

Lindsay: “Oh man. We really need to get this fixed.”

Michelle: “Any chance you think we could do it ourselves?” 

Lindsay: “I’m not so great at that stuff. Let’s call Sarah. She’s really handy.”

Michelle: “Ok…calling. Hey Sarah! Can you help us out? Thank you! Should we stay here or would you prefer to do it by yourself? Ok thanks!”  

Lindsay: “She wants us to leave?” 

Michelle: “Yeah! She likes to work alone.”

Lindsay: “Ok. I’ll go shopping for dinner.”

Michelle: “Can you do it by yourself? I need to take a run.”


Lindsay: “Sure. Wow. Look at this video of little Tommy writing his name all by himself.”

Michelle: “SO cute! “

Takeaway

This is a really great area to focus on, because you want to be sure that you are using such a phrase in the best way possible.

Something to consider–does the BY always make a big difference?

No, not at all–and hopefully you see that and how this all works.

We gave you some ideas for today to get you started so that you can start to use this in conversation.

Listen to how you hear it used, and also listen for those chunks because this can give you some great cues.

It’s a great thing to try out on your own, so practice and see how you feel much more comfortable with it.

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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