The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: I versus Me

Tell me if this sounds familiar: as a child, you explained that “Sue and me went to the pool today,” or “Daddy bought toys for Sue and me.” And then a well-meaning adult instructed you to say “Sue and I,” not “Sue and me.”

Well, one of those would be correct. The other is not.

Let me give you some grammarly background. I is a pronoun (meaning it’s a word that takes the place of a proper noun). In this case, you would use I to talk about yourself, so that you don’t use your own name and go around talking about yourself in the third person like Elmo. A noun is usually the subject of a sentence.

The word me is a direct or indirect object (specifically, the personal pronoun in the objective case). Anyway, what this means is that me is the object being acting upon by the verb and subject of the sentence.

In the first sentence example above, Sue and the speaker are the subjects of the sentence. So I would be the proper pronoun to use here. An easy way to test this: remove the other subject (Sue) from the sentence.

Which one sounds correct? “Me went to the pool,” or “I went to the pool.” Yep, the second one is correct. So dear old Ma was right when she told you to say “Sue and I went to the pool today.”

In the second example of “Daddy bought toys for Sue and me,” Daddy is the subject of the sentence. Sue and the speaker are the direct objects (the nouns that are receiving the action of the verb – in this case, the people receiving the toys bought by Daddy). So the objective case pronoun would be the correct one to use.

Again, test it by removing the other direct object (Sue) from the sentence. “Daddy bought toys for me,” or “Daddy bought toys for I.” Yep, this time it’s me. Dear old Ma got that one wrong if she told you to use I.

So if you’re talking or writing about yourself and someone (or something) else, just remove the other person from the sentence to see if it should be I or me. If you’re fluent enough in English to be reading this blog post, then you can trust your ear to know which self-pronoun sounds right.

Of course, you can avoid the whole mess and use “we” or “us.” Just remember that “we” is the subjective pronoun, and “us” is the objective pronoun.

Or you can keep it really simple and just talk like Elmo.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: I versus Me

  1. Bwa ha ha! XD I love the bit about Elmo.

    I’m such a grammar freak (ask anyone), that I had to stop myself and literally (not figuratively) bite my tongue so I wouldn’t scare off my friends by correcting their grammar. I thought it’d come across as snobby or something of that sort. But I’ve known my friends for so long now (four, five years, maybe even longer) that they realize it’s just who I am and they laugh when I do it. Sometimes they’ll annoy me on purpose (“Hey, do you want to come get some ice cream with ME and Sophia?”).

    Like

    • I used to correct people’s grammar when they talked – and then realized that it isn’t really the best way to make new friends. 😛 Sometimes I do it jokingly with people I know well, but most of the time I just let it go. The written word – I’ll be a grammar nazi. Spoken word – I try to be more relaxed about it. 🙂

      Like

  2. This is cool. I’m a pedant when it comes to this sort of thing and I sort of instinctively knew the rules (even though in conversation I will occasionally lapse and then hate myself for it), but it was only recently that I heard the trick you mention of removing the 3rd party …

    If you haven’t already, will you cover another bugbear of mine – ‘less’ vs ‘fewer’? 😉

    I’d also be interested to hear your thoughts on whether the latin plurals are acceptable or not in modern writing (podiums/podia, formulas/formulae etcetera).

    If you want to use anything from B5 to illustrate any points, that is perfectly OK 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, the “less” vs “fewer” thing bugs me frequently, and it’s on my list of future blog post ideas.

      Not sure if the Latin plural thing would be something I could cover, as I have no clue. In everyday language, all I hear (and use myself) are the “s” endings. The only ones that I see with Latin endings (even occasionally) are “medium/media” and “datum/data.” I’m not sure of the actual style rules – and even that might depend on which style guide (like AP versus Chicago, etc).

      Yay, another B5 fan! If I can come up with a way of doing a Babylon 5-themed grammar post, I’ll do it. 😉

      Like

      • Re: The latin stuff.
        I guess my point was that the rules they are a-changin’. For example, you will see in motorsport journalism (proper stuff for which people are paid, not just amateur websites) references to things like “The car performance data is collected and analysed …” alongside things like “The driver has only earned three podiums this year.”.

        The first refers to a plural as a singular (it should be “performance data ARE collected”) while the second forms a plural by adding an ‘s’ to a singular when the correct form is different. I picked these examples on purpose – datum/data and podium/podia follow the exact same classical form (as does medium/media, your other example) but in modern usage have been bent such that the common forms are actually opposite to each other. This is why it occured to me when I read your post – in the same way you suggest removing the 3rd party to determine the correct usage of “me” vs “I”, I read “data” as “datums” to determine if the surrounding grammar is correct).

        I’m not a writer, but having learned this stuff a long time ago it always irks me slightly when I see it misused (especially in professionally written articles) :). I was just wondering if, as a writer, it’s something you have ever had to consider. I guess it might depend on your expected target audience, so for the most part it’s probably safer/best to go with (and therefore reinforce) the current popular usage.

        Like

        • You’re quite right about the rules a’changin’! And one of the things that many linguistics argue about is what changes should be accepted as new proper usage and which ones shouldn’t. Honestly, I don’t keep up with that sort of thing as much as I should. If I have a serious dilemma, then I will use whichever style guide is most appropriate for what I’m writing and hope that no one takes issue with my choice. And with the Latin pluralities, I really don’t know what the accepted current usage is. So maybe I’ll avoid a blog post about that one till I’m more confident in the subject. 😛

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s