Tips from the Editor – You and I vs. You and Me

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By Kelly LaycockYouMe2

There you are, listening to your favourite Lady Gaga album (just bear with me), and you hear her sing:

Something, something about this place
Something ’bout lonely nights and my lipstick on your face
Something, something about my cool Nebraska guy
Yeah, something about, baby, you and I

(Lady Gaga, “You and I”)

And if Lady Gaga is singing it, it must be correct, right? So we perpetuate it, and eventually it sounds correct. Pretty soon we’re saying things like “Between you and I”:

Not even the Gods above
Can separate the two of us.
No, nothing can come between
You and I.

(One Direction, “You and I”)

Does this not make other people cringe when they hear it? And I don’t necessarily mean the music (I leave that to personal taste), but do these famous people not have a single person in their crew to tell them that their songs are INCORRECT? What are their editors doing? We have let all of our standards go down the drain. All right, Lady Gaga’s had to rhyme. I’ll give her a little freedom for artistic expression, but One Direction had no constraints. They just plain got it wrong.  

And I’m not alone in this opinion. One irate blogger had this to say:

Perhaps it’s the Internet, or reality TV, or just a marked increase in people talking about themselves, but “and I” has all but massacred poor “and me.” … Somewhere along the line, whether from schoolroom traumas or Real Housewives, some folks got the impression that the regal-sounding “and I” is right in every case and that slovenly “and me” must never be said under any circumstances. Friends, it just isn’t true.1

So how do I know that they are using it wrong? What are the rules exactly?

Well, English is a language that uses the sentence structure of Subject Verb Object (SVO). For example:  Harry met Sally. Harry is the subject doing the action, met is the action verb, and Sally is the passive object of the action. As we all know, whether consciously or not, personal pronouns can replace proper nouns in a sentence. Personal pronouns come in four varieties: subjective, objective, possessive and reflexive. In first person, that would be I, me, mine and myself, respectively. For this post, we are dealing only with the subjective and the objective pronouns.

The Oxford Dictionary grammar site does a great job of explaining further:

The two personal pronouns I and me are often used wrongly, usually in sentences in which I is being used with another noun. Here are some tips to help you get it right:

  • Use the pronoun I, along with other subjective pronouns such as we, he, she, you, and they, when the pronoun is the subject of a verb:

He went to bed.

We waited for the bus.

Clare and I are going for a coffee.

In the last example, the pronoun I, together with the proper noun Clare, forms the subject of the sentence, so you need to use I rather than me.

  • Use the pronoun me, along with other objective pronouns such as us, him, her, you, and them, when the pronoun is the object of a verb:

Danny thanked them.

The dog followed John and me to the door.

That seems rather simple. Every day, a hundred times a day, we have no problem forming the correct subjective and objective forms. But we have become numb to the mistaken uses of I and me. Mostly because we don’t really think about grammar in our own language. We say what we hear around us and it just sounds right. Unfortunately sometimes what sounds right is the result of confusing similarities in our language. For example, the pronoun you is the same in both subjective and objective case, so that leads us to use other pronouns in the same way. We might be able to hear that You and me went to the store sounds a little strange, but the fact that The dog followed you and I to the store has lost that same strangeness stems from overuse of the phrase you and I – possibly, as the irate blogger suggested above, because of the perception that you and me sounds slovenly or that you and I sounds more regal.

Whatever the reason, this is such a common error that the Government of Canada has posted a tip page about it on their Public Works and Government Services Canada website. They lay it out this way:

To help you choose between the phrases you and I and you and me, try the following substitutions:

If you can substitute the pronoun we, use you and I.

  • You and I (we) should get together for dinner next week.
  • Maxine is wittier than you and I (we) are.
If you can substitute the pronoun us, use you and me.

  • Dylan has not written to you and me (us) since he left town.
  • Maxine is wittier than you and me (us).

 

And for Pete’s sake don’t mix other subject and object pronouns together! Eek! We do not live in a Dr. Seuss book after all!

YouMe

 

And just like mom used to say – Think before you speak!

 

___________________________________

1 “Please Stop Saying ‘and I’ All the Damn Time” by Stacey Grenrock Woods, Esquire Magazine online. Posted on August 22, 2013. <http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/and-i-misuse-grammar>

 

11 thoughts on “Tips from the Editor – You and I vs. You and Me

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    September 19, 2014 at 4:07 pm

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      kjleditorial said:
      September 19, 2014 at 4:12 pm

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    The Viking from Yorkshire said:
    September 13, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Alas, as long as you English speaking continue to say that usage determines rules, things will only get worse. You have already done this with your address pronouns. Although you say that the meaning is always determined by context, this is not always so. Just as you alternate between “I” and “we”, between “me” and “us”, “my” and “our”, or “mine” and “ours” – so you should be able, in the same sentence to do so in the address. Yet you cannot. “You” must be both singular and plural.

    I get sick to my teeth trying to explain to people who clearly only “think” in English, that St. Paul *never* said that your (personal) body were the temple of the Holy Spirit. Yet they just don’t get it. I have written an essay on this too http://www.scribd.com/doc/49207268/Your-Body-Is-Not-The-Temple-of-The-Holy-Spirit – and in this respect, where pronouns are concerned, the claims that modern translations of the bible be more accurate are plainly false. The language has simplified, and whereas “you” may now mean both “you” (singular) and “you” (plural), in the biblical texts it most certainly does not. Therefore, unless a modern paraphrasing be successful in conveying the same meaning, it cannot be said that it is more accurate.

    Notwithstanding, the days of the prescriptive grammarian among you have gone. You say that “usage determines the rule”. It’s utter rubbish of course, but nothing is going to change until you yourselves take charge of your own language. Until you do, *it* and not you, will do your thinking for you.

    Liked by 1 person

      ken11fox said:
      September 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Thanks for your comments and concerns Viking from Yorkshire. But do glitches with English pronouns create problems for everyday communication or is it just interpretation of ancient writings? I’m confused – you say we have no more prescriptive grammar, but then you say the descriptive grammar practiced by our Editor is rubbish – which is it? I suppose English has no grammar at all then. And when you say “you yourselves take charge of your own language” – are you addressing all billion-some-odd English speakers worldwide, or the 3-400 million native speakers? Either way, it’s a pretty large group to try and take charge of something. Should we elect a committee of experts from the 54 countries where English is the official language? That’s a pretty big committee. But then who’s to say the rest of us will follow their recommendations? And you seem to write English well enough – why don’t *you go ahead and take charge? Are you proposing we bring back “thou”?” Sure, give it a try – although don’t they, in the American South, have an equally valid solution, that is much farther long solution along, with “y’all”?

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        The Viking from Yorkshire said:
        September 19, 2014 at 4:31 am

        Let me answer in order you have given. Yes glitches do create problems for you (plural), not just interpretation of ancient writings. The problem, as you would see yourself if you not only use but *think* in a language that still makes the distinction, is that you (plural) cannot see the problems since you need the language to enable you to see the concept mentally.

        You (singular, that is you who made the comment) lip many of the things I have read from your linguists (plural, meaning not yours who are making this comment, but generic to the group of English speaking people to which you belong). I was born in England, and used to think like this too. Using the communication studies model I learnt there, and with which you (singular, the one who wrote this) are no doubt familiar, then communication consists of a transmitter, the medium, and the receiver. If you the receiver (singular again) understand other than what I the transmitter say to you, such that you interpret it as plural, then communication has effectively failed.

        You yourself illustrate this problem by what you write. If you were to rewrite the paragraph above – albeit of course WITHOUT the clumsy sentence structure by which I strive to maintain the distinction between “thou” and “ye” in Modern English – but this time from *your* (singular) perspective, the first person pronouns would allow you to do so. Hence, it is completely necessary for the address also to do so. You (plural, meaning you in the generic sense, belonging not just to you who wrote this reply but the group to which you belong) only avoid this problem by avoiding sentence constructions that use it…. in other words neither you (who wrote this reply) nor indeed you (plural) see the problem. You don’t *think* it. The problem comes for those of us, who can see it, once we can see it, and try to communicate with our fellows.

        Without further ado, let me rephrase the second paragraph for you (singular). It would be the Yorkshire Viking said that I lip many of the things he has read from our linguists. He was born in England, and used to think like this too. Using the communication studies model I learnt there, and with which I are no doubt familiar, then communication consists of a transmitter, the medium, and the receiver. If I the receiver understand other than what he the transmitter says to me, such that I interpret it as plural, then communication has effectively failed.

        Of course it is not playing with words to say you (plural) need this distinction. I speak all the time of what we do in my country (Norway). We talk about what is MY responsibility living here, and our rights. If we need to alternate between “I” and “we” (and “my” and “ours”) et cetera, then of course the concepts to which I refer exist in the address. And as already pointed out, even if you want to convince yourself that it’s all just progress (I assure you singular you plural just haven’t seen the problem – yes, I want you to say to yourself “he assures me we just haven’t seen the problem” – there is no denying that in the ancient texts as you put it, this distinction exists and you do not understand those texts correctly unless you understand that distinction – which your language (I assume by now you know I mean generic) denies you. Hence whatever else may be said about modern translations of the Bible, in this respect they are not more accurate at all.

        Lastly, if you (singular) could see the concepts, or rather THINK them as I do, you would not ask me what I meant by addressing all the billion of English speakers world wide. You know what you mean when you write “we” in a sentence about your country, when speaking about it, and I do not ask you how you personally can represent the millions of people who live there. Likewise you would, were it not for the language, know what I meant when I address *you* (plural) in the same sense.

        There is nothing confusing about this at all. As for would I bring “thou” back, regrettably I have no influence in the matter, but yes I would if I had the power to do so. Either that, or one would have to construct a new distinction between “you” and “yous”. I regret to inform you that I am reliably informed by friends from South Carolina that “y’all” is not an alternative, since it is already used as a singular – and not as the plural one would assume.

        Like

        ken11fox said:
        September 22, 2014 at 10:08 am

        Thanks for the detailed response! You’re right – I am quite ignorant of all the chaos this linguistic defect, the lack of a singular and plural “you” is causing. I still don’t know how a billion people can grow a new pronoun – these things can take decades or centuries – but I have been using y’all as a plural address and people seem to understand, so there’s a start. The history of biblical translation & interpretation is one of many communities adapting the text to their own needs. Maybe somebody liked the idea of the individual body being a temple, and the ambiguous “you” allowed them to read it that way? It’s kind of a nice image, isn’t it – suggests that the spirit lives in every person – not just the actual temple – perhaps dating from the reformation? Behold I stand at the door and knock …

        Like

    k. said:
    September 10, 2014 at 11:28 am

    This is driving me crazy!!!! First I attributed it to the influx of reality tv … the people featured on these shows seem to be largely uneducated and not all that smart. Then it drifted from reality shows to the entertainment shows which cover them — I would think those people at least have writers on staff who took English in college … But I am MOST disheartened to hear that people on my local network also making these horrific mistakes, including last week a reporter’s glaring misuse of not only “I” but also “she”. Ugh. Don’t reporters have to have journalism degrees? Don’t they have to study English. I am also very disheartened to hear the incorrect “and I” show up now in scripted tv shows and in movies. Aren’t those shows written by professional writers? Don’t professional writers strive to use correct (simple)grammar ?! don’t they have editors to catch glaring mistakes such as these?

    I am concerned that the “and I” and the over-/misuse of “myself” will become the standard… that “and me” will be phased out as the language evolves.

    Is there someone out there who could take up this cause and try to stop it by educating people?! I have thought maybe someone like Ellen DeGeneres or Andy Cohen or one of the entertainment shows on E! could take up the cause?? Any ideas?!

    It’s such a simple, simple rule and it is used SO often, why couldn’t we just start a campaign to teach it!!?

    Where are the middle and high school English teachers on this?!

    And while I’m at it, why are major news networks now dropping the verb “to be” and speaking incorrectly in their nightly news shows by saying sentences such as:
    (ugh, I even hate to give an example, it drives me so crazy!)… “President Obama giving a speech in the white house. Congress meeting tomorrow.” etc etc. I can’t even watch ABC news anymore because they do this ALL THE TIME now. horrible. Has anyone else noticed this trend? Do you know why it is happening?!

    Thanks!!

    Like

    jackie said:
    June 5, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Yeah! Grammar! Please do a post on the plague that is “myself” .

    Like

      kjleditorial said:
      June 5, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Good idea! I will put it on my list, Jackie! Thanks for reading.

      Like

    rechemck said:
    June 4, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    I find the easiest way to figure out if it is “you and I” or “you and me” is to remove the “you and”. Would I say “The dog followed I to the store”? Nope, I would say “me” so it should be “you and me.” Simple, but it works!

    Like

    ken11fox said:
    June 4, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for another interesting post Editor! I agree with your general point about the linguistic drift – once upon a time “you and me” was habitually used wrongly in the subject, and the grammar police intervened to correct the habit, and ended up over-correcting. Wow, what terrible songs – unmusical, unlyrical, and humourless. And yet I can defend the use of “you and I” in both. Rules of grammar are only useful when they are useful, when they cease being useful they lose their usefulness – feel free to quote me on that. When I read the Lady Gaga quote, I agree with you – “you and I” seems wrong. But in the song itself, it seems correct, as you point out, because of the rhyme. In the One Direction song, “you and I” is used as a subject the first time it comes up, and then is flipped to the object in the chorus – I think they have made “you and I” into a new entity, something like a proper name. The separate identities of the lovers have fused, and “we” / “us” somehow doesn’t cut it (and the technically correct object is not “you and me” but the more economical “us”). As with Gaga, they are using “you and I” for legitimate aesthetic reason. Yes, I also cringed, but for different reasons [-: Here’s another lyric that makes the opposite violation: “you and me / will all go down in history / with a sad statue of liberty / and a generation that didn’t agree” – that’s System of a Down (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdWtIboYLEg). I cringe at those words also, they look bloody awful on the screen. But not a bad song.

    Like

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