To Me or Not To Me: I vs. Me, Her & Him vs. She & He, Them vs. They

“Billy. this is your decision, and whatever the decision is you know it’s fine with your mother and I.”
— Billy Beane’s father in the film Moneyball

But it is not fine with we. That’s because it should be “your mother and me.” Yes, Billy Beane’s dad has fallen into the trap many people fall into: thinking that “I” sounds more erudite than “me.” And, of course, they end up sounding less erudite.

Blame teachers and other grammar sticklers for doing their job too well. They have been so strident about the incorrect usage of “me” (as in “Don’t say ‘you and me are going,” say “you and I are going.””) that people now chuck out all of the “me”’s and the “I”’s then have it. ” Problem is, there is a right time to use “me” and a wrong time to use “I.”

This shoving of “I” in when “me” is actually right is called a hypercorrection, which, as you would guess, occurs when people overcorrect a perceived error. They think they are adhering to a grammatical rule by doing so, but instead are committing a grammatical mistake. (The I/me confusion is the most common hypercorrection. Tossing in “whom” willynilly instead of “who” is another. See To Whom it May Concern.)

In standard usage, I, we, he, she, and they are subjective pronouns, used when the pronoun is the subject of a verb. (Jane and I/we/he/she/they walked to the door.) Me, us, him, her, and them are objective pronouns, used when the pronoun is the object of a verb, when the verb is doing something to someone or something. (The dog followed Jane and me/us/him/her/them to the door). Me/us, etc are also used after prepositions, where they’re also the object. (Joe walked to the door with Jane and me/us/him/her/them).

But people get confused, especially where there are more than one people or subjects in the sentence. Probably the simplest way to determine which pronoun to use is to cut the other ones and see if “I” (or we, he, etc.) works. Using our Moneyball example, “It’s fine with your mother and I” then becomes “It’s fine with I.” Wrong! It should be me. (although some people now argue that since so many people misuse I it’s okay. Us thinks they’re wrong).

While it has become more and more common to hear “I” when “me” is preferred, it’s not a new issue at all. Back in 1568, playwright Ben Jonson, in his Every Man in His Humour, wrote “Musco has been with my cousin and I all this day.” William Shakespeare was rather casualwith his pronouns as well. Take this line from Act 3, scene 2, of The Merchant of Venice: “Sweet Bassanio, … all debts are cleared between you and I.” (Perhaps Will should have taken a few more moments to ponder the concept of “to me or not to me…”)


from That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means