I admit it: this is one of my biggest pet peeves, heard everywhere from erudite scholars to less-than-brainy reality TV stars. Either way, somehow it’s come to be understood that in the English language, when in doubt, use “I” and you will likely be speaking correct grammar and sound intelligent too. Not so, people!
While both are pronouns that refer to oneself, there is a simple explanation for the difference between the two (and the key to their use). Use “I” when you are the subject of a sentence, use “me” when you are the object of the sentence. Remember sentence diagrams? At their most basic: [Subject] followed by [verb] followed by [object].
What messes people up though is when you have more than one person as the subject or the object, when the sentence is “He and I went to the store.” Okay, easy enough, “he and I” is correct here. But which of these sentences is correct?
– At the store, the manager congratulated he and I.
– At the store, the manager congratulated him and I.
– At the store, the manager congratulated him and me.
In the above examples, the manager is the subject and therefore, “me” is the object, and the third sentence is the correct one. “The manager congratulated him” – easy. But add another person so it’s not singular anymore and it confuses people. You wouldn’t say, “the manager congratulated I” but a lot of people would have said “the manager congratulated him and I” and think they’re speaking correctly when they’re not.
The easiest way to tell when “I” is correct and when “me” is correct is to remove the other noun (or person) from the sentence and see if it still makes sense.
Examples of the correct use of “I”
– Georgia and I went to the beach this weekend.
I went to the beach this weekend. Me went to the beach this weekend doesn’t make sense. Easy, I know.
– She and I have to make bouillabaisse.
I have to make bouillabaisse. She has to make bouillabaisse. Her has to make bouillabaisse and me has to make bouillabaisse don’t make sense. Still easy, but wait.
Examples of the correct use of “me”
– Please come with Randolph and me to the monster truck rally.
Take out Randolph and it’s “Please come with me to the monster truck rally.” Please come with I to the monster truck rally doesn’t make sense.
– I heard the diplomat talking about him and me.
(Again, take out the other person):
Correct: I heard the diplomat talking about me. I heard the diplomat talking about him.
Incorrect: I heard the diplomat talking about I, or I heard the diplomat talking about he don’t make sense.
Now, go forth and speak properly (dammit)!
Need a good primer on grammar? I highly recommend this book, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: A Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed. Herewith is Amazon’s glowing Editorial Review:
Karen Elizabeth Gordon is no ordinary grammarian, and her works (including The New Well-Tempered Sentence, Torn Wings and Faux Pas, and The Disheveled Dictionary)–are no ordinary books of grammar. A special edition of the 1984 classic, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire is populated by a wickedly decadent cast of gargoyles, mastodons, murderous debutantes, and, yes, vampires (both transitive and otherwise), who cavort and consort in order to illustrate basic principles of grammar. The sentences are intoxicating–“How he loved to dangle his participles, brush his forelock off his forehead with his foreleg, and gaze into the aqueous depths”–but the rules and their explanations are as sound as any you might find in Strunk and White.
Outlining the building blocks of the English language, from parts of speech to phrases and clauses, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire goes on to exorcise such grammatical demons as passive voice, fragments, comma splices, and run-on sentences. At last, a handbook of grammar you will actually want to read.