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.
||If you can substitute the pronoun us, use you and me.
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!
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>