First of all, I’d like to thank Spanglish Jill for giving me the idea for this post.
We’ve probably all found ourselves in a situation like this:
Little Timmy: Yesterday, John and me went to the beach and…
Heartless Teacher: No, Timmy, it’s John and I!
Little Timmy: Huh?
Heartless Teacher: You don’t say John and me, you say John and I! John and me is for vulgarians only…
Little Timmy: Oh, ok. John and I went to…
It’s one of those golden rules we have drilled into us repeatedly as children that we never forget, like i before e except before c (more on that in the future): never say (insert name) and me.
But, does this rule always hold? The fact that I’m asking should tell you the answer…
Let’s start by acknowledging that The Heartless Teacher above is right. I’ll wager she doesn’t know why, but she is right. She’s right because John and Little Timmy are the subjects of the sentence, the ones doing the action of the sentence. Compare with the following sentences with the subjects in bold:
Frank and Alice usually walk to work.
Stephen is watching TV.
The moon looks very bright tonight, doesn’t it?
Sometimes we can replace a subject with a pronoun, usually if we’ve already mentioned it, or it’s clear what the pronoun refers to. For example:
They usually walk to work.
He is watching TV.
It looks very bright tonight, doesn’t it?
And of course:
John and I went to the beach,
John and Little Timmy went to the beach.
Which is why we say John and I, because I is the correct first-person singular personal pronoun. Even though John and me comes much more naturally to the tongue for a lot of people, John and I is correct. In this case, at least…
How about this:
The teacher corrected John and I whenever we made a grammar mistake.
Sound ok? It probably will, at least for some of you. I mean, it’s got John and I, so of course it is, isn’t it? You’ve just told us that John and I is correct!! Well yes, but we teachers do love to lead people down the garden path without warning them of the mess the dog made at the end. Because you, see in this case, the sentence should read:
The teacher corrected John and me whenever we made a grammar mistake.
Why? Because John and I are the objects of the phrase. The teacher is the subject doing the action, and that action is correcting. John and I are the ones receiving that action, which makes us the objects of the verb. And because I’m not using my own name, I use a pronoun. And because I’m the object in this case, I use the correct object pronoun, which is me. Some other examples of when to use me instead of I:
The teacher looked angry with John and me because we made grammar mistakes.
The teacher threw her book at John and me.
The nurse treated John and me.
In all the above cases, John and I are at the receiving end of various actions, for better or for worse.
In their simplest form then, the rules are:
We (subject pronoun) are doing the action: John and I.
The action is being done to us (object pronoun): John and me.
Why do people make this mistake? I think it’s because usually when we have two people mentioned in a sentence, the first is the subject of the sentence, doing an action which is being done to/with/at/on/in (heaven forbid) the other person. For example:
John talked to me.
So when we refer to two people in a sentence, our instinct is to use an object pronoun for the second one. But then, a lot of us are told as children that we should always use John and I, so we use that all the time, regardless of whether we’re a subject or object in the sentence. Often teachers don’t explain the subject/object distinction enough to make us aware of the difference. And sadly, through no fault of their own, it’s sometimes because they’re not aware of the difference themselves. I should also point out that though using an object pronoun in this way is strictly grammatically incorrect, it’s not such a big deal. A lot of people do it, and the meaning is still clear. It just might make a bad impression in some situations, that’s all.
But look: if you’re reading this, then you probably want to get it right. So, how do you ensure that you use the right form, I hear you enquire? I’m glad you asked that, because…
HERE’S ONE SIMPLE TRICK TO USE I AND ME CORRECTLY. HUNDREDS OF _MOTHERS OF YOUR NATIONALITY_ ARE ALREADY USING IT TO EARN $$$S!!!
If in doubt as to whether to use I or me, simply remove John from the equation (you never needed him anyway), and see if the sentence sounds correct. Let’s try it:
John and Me went to the beach.
The teacher corrected
John and I.
Straightaway they sound wrong don’t they? And that’s because we’d use the same pronoun if we were referring to one person, or one person with another. The important thing is whether it’s referring to a subject or an object. And even though many native speakers don’t study grammar points like subjects and objects much in school, we still learn to unconsciously distinguish between subject and object pronouns in early childhood (though the occasional Me hungry will survive into adulthood). Therefore, using the incorrect pronoun type on its own immediately sounds wrong. It’s just not as obvious when another person is involved (who is this John anyway?) So take that other person away for a moment, and you’ll know exactly whether to use me or I. It works every time.
That’s today’s lesson done. John, Little Timmy, and I are off to chuck eggs at our teacher’s house…