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I just stumbled upon a Reddit post titled:

My wife and I's seafood collaboration dinner. How does it look?

Sure enough, the top comment immediately points out that it should be "my wife's and my". However, a cross-post to the Grammar subreddit produced the following comment:

It's fine as it is written. "my wife and I" is a noun phrase, functioning as a subjective pronoun in the singular and made possessive with the apostrophe. It is exactly the same as "our".

It seems weird because you would never use "I's" on its own but it is not on its own here - it is part of a noun phrase.

That's a rather intriguing argument. Does it hold any water?

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My first reaction was: "can I turn it around?" And should be commutative, but there is no way to say "I and my wife's". Actually, the whole sentence would take on a totally different, somewhat awkward meaning,. –  malach Oct 20 '10 at 14:06
    
"My wife's and my..." sounds much better to to me, but I couldn't tell you why. –  Kramii Oct 24 '10 at 5:50
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I speak Queen's English with received pronunciation, and can tell you that in fact, "mine and my wife's dinner" is what I would say, or perhaps, "my wife and I's" if I were speaking informally with friends. –  user21015 May 9 '12 at 10:29
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@Kris: the whole point of this question is whether or not my wife and I needs to be the name of an obscure music album to be interpreted as a whole unit by native speakers. The Reddit thread says no, an answer by an American linguist says no, a comment by a speaker of Queen's English says no, and the many linked questions demonstrate that many people keep wondering about this issue. "Without substance" is not a label that seems justified. If you think an answer is wrong, you are expected to downvote it and post a better one. Simply downvoting the question instead accomplishes nothing at all. –  RegDwigнt Sep 26 '12 at 11:01
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@Kris: You contradict yourself. You say the question is unanswerable and yet you couldn't be more adamant that the answer to it is an unequivocal "no". Truth is, the question has produced a great answer that covers all bases once and for all. "Yes, this argument does have a basis in linguistic fact, which is why some people do it in the first place, but that doesn't mean it must be correct in Standard English (and it isn't). Both approaches are linguistically sound, but only one is accepted as a standard; namely, 'my wife's and my'." Comprehensive and comprehensible. Hardly unanswerable. –  RegDwigнt Sep 26 '12 at 11:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 54 down vote accepted

Short answer

Yes, this argument does have a basis in linguistic fact, which is why some people do it in the first place, but that doesn't mean it must be correct in Standard English (and it isn't).

Longer Answer

This argument does hold water in the linguistic sense. "My wife and I" is, in fact, a phrase — a syntactic constituent. The fact that this phrase happens to end with the word I does not preclude it from taking the Saxon genitive as a whole unit. There are many cases where people apply the Saxon genitive ('s) to entire phrases in everyday speech:

  1. John and Marsha's house was robbed last night.
  2. I'm not a fan of 1995 to 2005's music scene at all.
  3. The plants were eaten by the man next door's cat.

In the case of (1), if we follow the logic of "my wife's and my", we should have to say "John's and Marsha's house" — the genitive should have been distributed among the nouns in the conjoined phrase. Same for (2) and (3). And in (3) the 's is directly next to an adjectival phrase "next door", not even a noun phrase.

Now, people may have different opinions about which of these types of constructions they would allow and in what context; the fact is that people say these sorts of things all the time, and for most people they don't even register as anything out of the ordinary when they happen.

In Standard English, when a pronoun is involved in a conjoined phrase like "my wife and I", the genitive marker is distributed to all the noun phrases in the conjoined phrase. This would yield the construction "my wife's and my".

However, in the case of "my wife and I's", what we are seeing is one or more dialects extending this phrasal Saxon genitive to include some conjoined phrases that include pronouns. So the phrase is getting the genitive marker, rather than each of the units within the phrase.

Both approaches are linguistically sound, but only one is accepted as a standard; namely, "my wife's and my". Standard forms are chosen somewhat arbitrarily. This means that they don't have some sort of objective "correctness"; it also means that you can't argue for the correctness of a non-standard form based on logic. There are many logical ways to convey ideas, and one was chosen to be the standard. If you wish to communicate in a context where adherence to formal/standard rules is beneficial, then you should choose the standard form.

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It seems to me that the particular usage is running up against a conflicting rule, and that is why there is more tension in peoples' minds than when confronted with John and Marsha's –  horatio Apr 21 '11 at 19:58
    
@horatio: What conflicting rule are you talking about? –  Kosmonaut Apr 21 '11 at 20:19
    
my wife and I as a phrase vs. the rule to use my wife and my there is no strong pressure to alter John and Marsha like there is in this case. –  horatio Apr 21 '11 at 20:39
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Scrupulous answers like these are what makes @Kosmonaut such a great contributor to this site. I bow in his general direction. –  Robusto Apr 22 '11 at 11:53
    
Is there anything particularly wrong ...er... non-standard about "My and my wife's..." (which sounds the best to me). –  Mitch May 17 '11 at 3:04

No. The apostrophe is not what makes a possessive. It marks (slightly by accident) the old genitive case -es ending, which is not the route that "I" follows.

The correct version of the noun phrase argument is "My wife and my," and it's actually the right thing to use in this particular case because it implies we are talking about a joint effort between my wife and myself. "My wife's and my" implies that each of us made separate efforts. The point is a bit moot when discussing a singular thing (the seafood collaboration dinner), but still.

The Wikipedia article on the possessive apostrophe discusses this in more depth.

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"My wife and my dinner" could have a different meaning as intended. "My wife and my dinner had a great time together last night when I was not able to make our appointment." –  malach Oct 20 '10 at 15:02
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But the 's in the OP's example is functioning as an enclitic. I'd say it's awkward, but not wrong, as I do hear this kind of thing in speech from time to time. –  Jon Purdy Oct 20 '10 at 23:18
    
@Jon: I'm afraid we'll have to disagree, but thanks for introducing me to the word 'enclitic! –  user1579 Oct 21 '10 at 13:11
    
@Ralph: indeed. Context distinguishes. –  user1579 Oct 21 '10 at 13:12
    
@Rhodri: No problem. :) –  Jon Purdy Oct 21 '10 at 14:09

For the previous commentators: Indeed, genetive case would not call for the use of the word "I," which is nominative, used as ONLY a subject (without exception) not as an object.

To answer your question SIMPLY:

I = active (subject) I - it is the one that DOES something.

Any other reference wherein something BELONGS to someone (to me) or IS DONE TO someone (to me) is objective case requiring the use of "me."

Me - passive/inactive Me - it is always the one that SOMETHING IS DONE TO

Sadly, especially in certain reality TV, the average American has realized the notion of NOT USING "Me" as a subject. i.e. "Me and my friend are going to the store." This is great, however, what they have quickly and simply concluded is that the use of "Me" is always to be avoided.

If you're ever confused about WHICH pronoun to use, "I" or "Me" when another person is also involved (with you), i.e.:

"It was given to my wife and to me." "My friend and I went to the store."

REMOVE the "AND" and one of the persons. Just as you would never say, "It was given to I."... you would also never say, "Me went to the store.

Similary, you absolutely cannot use "I" in "My wife & I's dinner..." ("I" IS nominative/subjective case.) You can REMOVE one of the characters and test the sentence. But, in this particular case, you must REPHRASE the sentence, using "OF" in place of the "'s" (they are equivalent to each other indicating POSSESSION, hence, the possessive pronoun (of))

"Both my dinner and that of my wife were delicious. Both of our dinners were great." "My wife's dinner and mine were great." We cannot always, not in every instance, put together a set of words or phrases correctly in English without rephrasing them.

BUT, we can, indeed, easily learn when to use "my/mine" instead of "I's," which is 100% incorrect and an abomination within English useage.

You only use "I" when you are active, when YOU are the one who is DOING something. You cannot make "I" into a possessive pronoun that replaces "my/mine."

Lastly, check out PREPOSITIONS and don't be afraid of them. Although there are roughly 50-70, the most frequently used ones to note are: of, with, in, for, from, above, around, beyond, under, etc.) You need not memorize them... you will instantly know them in the future if you create sentences with them, using "I" and "Me" by themselves. Later, you can add another person to the sentence "I" or "me") - and you WILL KNOW which to use! ;-) ... both of you living happily ever after.

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This answer leans heavily towards a prescriptive rules for what is "correct", a view which is discredited in favor of descriptive rules. It can be improved by citing a reputable reference work which upholds your claims. As it stands, your answer could be taken as a pure statement of prescriptive opinion and is liable to be downvoted or deleted. –  MετάEd Sep 26 '12 at 4:17
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Thank you sincerely, MετάEd, for your kind critique and suggestion. My intent is to help people to use English (yes) "correctly," not to receive commendations from academicians. I have neither the time nor the inclination for extensive research and citations. I thought the purpose of this forum was TO HELP OTHERS... not for self-aggrandizement. –  user26555 Sep 26 '12 at 4:31
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With respect, @user26555, please see the FAQ, especially: "we expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise". Note also in the FAQ that this site "is for linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts"; as such, it is an academic site, and such people would certainly value your contributions most if they contained reputable citations rather than prescriptive statements. –  MετάEd Sep 26 '12 at 4:42

The simple rule of thumb I learned for this case:

Remove the 'other' and leave the I/me part. If it sounds right with only the I/Me part then the sentence is correct for the standard use of English.

I's seafood collaboration dinner. How does it look?

or

(I's/) My seafood collaboration dinner. How does it look?

presto! instant easy.


see also:

Do you think this is right for Angela and I? *

Do you think this is right for I? *

Do you think this is right for Angela and me?

Do you think this is right for me?

Do you think this is right for Angela and myself? *

Do you think this is right for myself? *

So I asked, "Do I think this is right for myself"?

Items with * are generally considered not-correct

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This answer misses the point. The handy rule you've been taught — we've all been taught that handy rule. We all know that "my wife's and my" is Standard English; we all know that a stanalone "I's" is not; but this question is about neither. It's about a peculiar construction produced by a native speaker (who himself is well aware that it's non-standard) and an attempt by another native speaker at an explanation of why it was possible for it to be produced in the first place. This question is all about putting that explanation to test, and the top and accepted answer adequately does just that. –  RegDwigнt Oct 14 '12 at 22:25

No. Not only for the reason given by Tragicomic, but also because the phrase "My wife and I" is an incorrect usage, except as the subject of a sentence, because I can only be the subject of a sentence, not an object.

Try turning it around to: "The collaboration dinner of my wife and I"; and turn it around further to: "The collaboration dinner of I and my wife"; now leave of the wife to give "The collaboration dinner of I". I think it should be clear that the appropriate pronoun would be "me"; and the possessive form of that (as object) is 'my'.

Probably the best form would "Mine and my wife's collaboration dinner."

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