As we say goodbye to 2014, it seems as good a time as any to correct a language error that a lot of people continue to make.
It’s using “I” where they should use “me” or vice versa.
If you already know the rule from grammar school, good for you!
Consider these two sentences:
He’s taking Jane and me to the park.
He’s taking Jane and I to the park.
Which is correct?
If you said the first, you’re right:
He’s taking Jane and me to the park.
It’s right because “Jane and me” are the objects of the sentence (the things being taken) while “he” is the subject (the thing that is taking). After all, “me” is the objective form of the first person pronoun while “I” is the subjective form.
For an example of proper “I” usage, just flip the subject and object:
Jane and I are taking him to the park.
The distinction is fairly simple when you think about it — yet even well-educated, native English speakers screw it up.
“My mother was busy raising my brother and I [read me].” / “Give Al Gore and I [read me] a chance to bring America back.” Bill Clinton, accepting the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, 16 July 1992.
I come across this error a lot, in writing and in speech. I suspect one reason for this error could have to do with kids frequently being corrected when they say, for example, “me and Jane” — as adults tell them to put the other person’s name first to be polite and to say “I” to be grammatical.
The result is that some people seem to think you always have to say “Jane and I” and that you can therefore never say things like “Jane and me.” Language experts call this “hypercorrection.”
But again, that’s just not right. For example, “I” is correct when used as a subject here:
Right: Jane and I are eating pizza!
Wrong: Jane and me are eating pizza!
But “me” is correct when used as an object here:
Right: Jane is making me pizza!
Wrong: Jane is making I pizza!
Here’s where confusion frequently happens:
Wrong: Jane is making Mike and I pizza!
Just because Mike is getting pizza too doesn’t mean you change from “me” to “I.”
Right: Jane is making Mike and me pizza!
If it “sounds wrong” to your ear, that’s probably because you’ve been saying it and hearing it wrong all this time. Or you had things like “Jane and I” hammered into you so often the correct way now sounds, well, incorrect.
The error is common enough that you might even get into a situation where someone tries to “correct” you! This has happened to me. And it’s always so awkward trying to explain it. You come off as a pedant. But know that there are people judging you when you make this error.
Another explanation for the error might have to do with people incorrectly thinking that the “and I” sounds “more correct” or “more formal” than “and me.” But that’s plain wrong.
A trick for getting it right: No one would ever say “He’s taking I.” You’d always say “He’s taking me.” You’d never say “Jane is making I pizza.” You’d always say “Jane is making me pizza.” So even though you’re mentioning another person “in between” the subject and the object — that is, you — don’t incorrectly change “me” to “I.” Just remove the other person — in this case Mike — and see if what you’re saying sounds right.
All of these are correct, by the way:
Jane is making me pizza.
Jane is making Mike pizza.
Jane is making Mike and me pizza.
Between you and me, Mike makes delicious pizza.
OK, so if you’d like some practice, here’s a short quiz on “I or me?”
Coincidentally, as I was writing this post just now, I found this brand-spanking-new NPR list. And gee — look what’s No. 1 on the list.
Also, Bill Flanagan has a pretty good explanation on CBS. Watch the video below:
Clinton got “I” and “me” mixed up, and he should have known better. One guy I’m giving a pass, however, is Jim Morrison. Recall the line from the Doors’ “Touch Me” in which he sings:
“I’m gonna love you till the stars fall from the sky for you and I [read me].”
Happy New Year!
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