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He says to himself.

Is this grammatically valid? I'm sure it's not, but I'm having trouble saying precisely why.

The writer wanted to say:

He talks to himself.

as in a habitual behaviour of muttering or mumbling to oneself. Certainly 'talks to himself' is the accepted phrase in common English usage, but can we say that 'says to himself' is invalid?

My thoughts:

I believe that 'say' requires an object, as it is a transitive verb in nearly every usage - including the above example; 'himself' is the object of the preposition, meaning there is no object for the verb.

To be correct, this would have to be an actual quote or description of what is being said:

He says to himself, "...."

He says disturbing things to himself.

The person I was having this discussion with mentioned something about objects being optional in the presence of a prepositional phrase, but that doesn't make any sense to me. In the sentence, "She showed her guest to the door." the object of the verb (her guest) is in no way optional.

I get that some verbs have an accepted intransitive form that can be argued for a dropping an object in the presence of a propositional phrase, but I really don't think 'say' is one of those verbs.

Any help or comments would be greatly appreciated!
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Comments  
I don't see that you need any help. I agree with you, and for the reasons that you've given.
(fig.) So I said to myself (= thought) "I wonder what she means". [Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English; 1987 edition]
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Anonymous(fig.) So I said to myself "I wonder what she means". [Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English; 1987 edition]
in that case, there's an actual quote or description of what is being said. that seems to function as the object of the verb 'said' in the example you gave.

the case i'm asking about involves having no object or quoted text. the specific sentence in the post title refers to describing someone that habitually talks to themselves, as in, "He often talks to himself."
The "He says to himself" cannot substitute the "talk to oneself". 'Say' is always transitive except in negatives and questions: 'Why did she do that?' 'I don't know she didn't say' .
Me thinks it's correct.
Actually, it sounds better than saying "he thinks" when using as reported tag.
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dcorksin that case, there's an actual quote or description of what is being said. that seems to function as the object of the verb 'said' in the example you gave.
So if there is a quote functioning as object, it would be correct, right?
Yes.
Thank you, Clive! Emotion: smile
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