Thursday, September 22, 2011

English teacher: how to use I and me


It's time for another little lesson from the English teacher.


Several people have asked me to address the use of I and me. These two little words are amazingly useful but are often misused. I've found that mistakes involving the use of these words is a pet peeve of many folks.


I and me are both personal pronouns (words that take the place of nouns). For the most part, the use of pronouns comes very naturally to native English speakers. One troublesome point is knowing when to use subjective pronouns and when to use objective pronouns. Here are the rules for that:



Use a subjective pronoun (I, you, he, she, they) as the subject of a sentence or phrase or following a linking verb (is, am, are, was, were, be).
Examples:
  • I love chocolate.
  • They left town this morning.
  • This is she. (Think about how you learned to answer the phone!)
Use an objective pronoun (me, you, him, her, them) as a direct or indirect object of a sentence or the object of a preposition. Prepositions are the connecting words used to build phrases that usually describe relationship of some kind. Some common prepositions are about, at, before, between, by, for, from, of, on, to, and with. The word or words following a preposition are the objects of the preposition. When you use a pronoun as the object of a preposition, you need an objective pronoun.

Examples:

  • Charlie bit me! ("Me" is the direct object of bit.)
  • Pam made me a pillow. ("Me" is the indirect object of made.)
  • This book is all about her. ("Her" is the object of the preposition about.)

Now, here's where it gets tricky. When you were very small, you probably said to your mom something like, "Me and Sally are going to ride our bikes." And your mom probably said, "Don't say 'me and Sally'; say 'Sally and I.'" She was trying to teach you that it's polite to say the other person's name first, then say your own name. She was right about that. And she probably had to repeat this rule of courtesy a number of times before you got it. The important part of that lesson was being polite, not using good grammar. But you need to know that you should say "Sally and I" ONLY when you need the subject of a sentence or phrase. If the words "Sally and I" are serving as the object of a phrase, then you need to switch to "Sally and me."

Examples:
  • Sally and I are going to the movie.
  • Mom baked cookies for Sally and me.
  • Please take a picture of Sally and me.
  • If you have any questions, just ask Sally or me.


There's an easy way to know whether to use "Sally and I" or "Sally and me." Just take "Sally" out of the sentence for a second. Would you say, "Mom baked cookies for I"? "Please take a picture of I"? Or "Just ask I"? No, of course you wouldn't; you would naturally say "me" instead of "I." So if you would naturally say "me," then you should use "me" in conjunction with the other person's name.

Your mom was right: it IS polite to say the other person's name first. But choose to add "I" or "me" based on how you're using the words in a sentence.

Here's an example: "Let's keep this just between you and I." Between is a preposition, so you need an object of the preposition. The correct wording is "between you and me."

Here's a little quiz for you.

  1. My husband and _____ (I or me) just celebrated our anniversary.
  2. I love this photo of my husband and _____ (I or me) from our wedding day.

If you answered "I" for number 1 and "me" for number 2, you're right!

Please let me know if you have any questions about English grammar or if there's a particular point you'd like for me to address in one of these little lessons. I want these to be a blessing to you. Leave me a comment if there's a particular point of grammar you'd like for me to address. Feel free to email me (RichellaP (at) gmail (dot) com) if you have a specific question. I'd be happy to help if I can!


5 comments:

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

I still struggle with the "I/me" thing. So much of the way I write is due to reading or just listening. I wish I paid more attention in grammar class!!!

Kellie M said...

I love your Engligh teacher posts. My husband frequently comments on how poorly people write/speak in the business world! How disappointing. Thanks for the refresher course.

Paula said...

Great tips! I read these posts with interest because unfortunately, the grammar rules that I learned in high school didn't all stick with me. Thanks for taking the time to write these helpful posts.

Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side said...

Yea!! Thank you for doing this. The "Me and ___" thing just makes my skin crawl.

Like Kellie M., my husband says the same thing about people in the business world--they just don't get how bad it makes them look when they can't write.

Anonymous said...

Here's another example that I hear people say all the time: I am older than her. It should be "I am older than she (is)..."

Post a Comment

Did anyone ever tell you to keep your comments to yourself? That wasn't me! I LOVE to hear from you. Thank you so much for visiting!