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With the enthusiastic question of "Who wants ice-cream?", what is the more correct response?

  1. (Not) I.
  2. (Not) me.

Neither response is a sentence. The first response of "(not) I" sounds stuffy, like it should be followed with an indignant sniff. The second sounds like American idiom and acceptable for casual speech.

What do you say?

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4  
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. –  Brian Hooper Nov 1 '10 at 18:28
    
Best of both worlds is usually best. Go with "not me", plus that cool indignant sniff thing. –  Kaz Apr 27 '12 at 22:53
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6 Answers 6

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Generally speaking, in English, accusative (also known as “objective”) pronouns (like me) are the “default” form. That is, unless there is a specific syntactic rule requiring use of a different case, such as nominative (I), genitive (my/mine), or reflexive/intensive (myself), in English you use the accusative case.

In the syntactic context where a pronoun is not serving a role relative to an explicit verb, such as when it is the simple answer to a question, or if one is labeling something, such as a photo, accusative pronouns are standard. “Who wants to come?” “Me.” Nominative pronouns are impossible here—you cannot answer the question “Who wants to come?” with “I”, nor would anyone label a photo “I”.

This holds even if negated: “Who wants ice cream?” “Not me.”

If you want to use the highest register, most formal English, however, you should avoid the question of what case to use with pronouns standing alone, and use a complete sentence: “I do not want ice cream.”

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Good explanation. +1 –  Andy Nov 2 '10 at 18:29
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+1, I especially like the last paragraph. –  mskfisher Nov 3 '10 at 12:59
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you could also just say "I do" =). –  Claudiu Nov 4 '10 at 16:50
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No, it's correct to respond either "I" or "not I" to "who wants to come" or "who wants ice cream". Please don't tell me that I cannot answer these questions this way - I always would (and I am a native speaker), although I admit that it's less common than answering with "me" or "not me". -1. –  user16269 Apr 27 '12 at 23:35
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My understanding is that nonsentential utterances with nominative pronouns are ungrammatical hypercorrections—people consciously applying a grammatical "rule" they learned explicitly rather than through the natural process of language acquisition. Whether or not such utterances are grammatical I suppose is debatable, because so many people have been taught and sometimes use this "rule", such that artificial language instruction has interfered into the natural grammar of the language. I will stand by regarding it as ungrammatical, however. –  nohat Apr 28 '12 at 0:09
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"I" is used when the speaker is the subject of the sentence:

"I kissed Eve."

"Me" is used when the speaker is the object of the sentence.

"Eve kissed me."

Strict grammatical logic says that the same is true when answering questions.

"Who kissed Eve?"

"I did." or just "I."

However in common usage, going back centuries, people frequently use "Me" as a single word answer where "I" would seem logical. It's so common that it can't be considered wrong:

"Me."

..

"Who did Eve kiss?"

"Me."

By way of illustration; the classic nursery rhyme:

"Who killed Cock Robin?"

"I," said the Sparrow, with my bow and arrow"

Adding "not" changes nothing.

"Who kissed Eve?"

"Not I" - agrees with the formal, and still acceptable grammar

"Not me" - agrees with common usage

Both are fine. "Not I" is perhaps a bit ostentatiously literate

"Who did Eve kiss?"

"Not me." -- never "Not I"

Just as with that old chestnut less versus fewer, it's a one way street. People rarely say fewer when less is "correct" (except sometimes deliberately, to annoy). People rarely say "Not I" when "Not me" is "correct".

Bottom line: if you always say "Not me", you'll never be wrong. But you miss out on the chance to be extra rigorous in your grammar.

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Thanks for adding this response. I appreciate it. –  drewk Dec 22 '11 at 22:48
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Irony: Whom did Eve kiss. :) –  Kaz Apr 27 '12 at 22:57
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This answer is excellent. Both it and Andy's are technically correct. I try to be careful about this - if you ask me who wants ice cream, I'll probably say "not I". But it's also true that "not me" is more common; really it doesn't matter too much which you say. –  user16269 Apr 27 '12 at 23:33
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And not only is it "Whom did Eve kiss?" but the answer really is "Me" (and only "Me") because that has to be the accusative case. –  Andrew Leach Apr 28 '12 at 18:20
    
You'll almost never hear "whom did" (although I agree it's correct) from even very rigorous speakers, because the "m" running into the "d" makes it so much harder to pronounce than "who did". Those desperate to use "whom", I think are more likely to say "Eve kissed whom?" –  slim Apr 30 '12 at 11:17
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I would say either “I don’t” or “not me.”

I do not know whether “not me” is grammatically correct or not. If “not me” is acceptable, I guess that “not I” should be the grammatically correct form because “who” in the question is the subject. But even if so, “not I” sounds like a phrase for the sake of grammatical correctness.

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"Not I" is the grammatically correct way to say it (it's a way of rephrasing "I do not.") However, in common parlance (as opposed to formal), you will probably hear "not me" more often, though it's grammatically incorrect (it might be rephrased as "me do not.") As for why it became so common, I couldn't tell you. And yes, in casual conversation, it can sometimes sound awkward and perhaps a bit snooty. But it's not the only case where the grammatically correct way of saying something sounds that way.

TL; DR version: "Not me" probably won't get you funny looks in casual conversation. If you're writing an essay or giving a speech, use the grammatically correct form, "Not I."

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7  
You assumption that the “incorrect” usage has become more common since a time when everyone spoke “correctly” and used the “correct” usage is false. In fact, it is the opposite. The rule that you must use nominative forms when pronouns are not attached to a verb was invented at around the same time the rule that you can't prepose the objects of prepositions was invented, by analogy with Latin. Before then, nobody thought twice of using accusative forms in this context. “Not me” is the older, and in my opinion, more correct form. –  nohat Nov 2 '10 at 18:14
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@nohat: Nice. You learn something new every day. Thanks! –  Andy Nov 2 '10 at 18:23
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@nohat: well, not really. Originally, the nominative really was the default and this remained through at least part of the Middle English period. Since cases are defunct in English and where they do still exist, are entirely redundant, the default has now switched to the objective form. The same happened in French as the case system fell apart (in Old French, you could still say, e.g. "ne jo" for "not me/I", but now it is explicitly "non moi" or "pas moi" or "moi non plus" and never *"non je"). –  siride Jun 10 '11 at 16:46
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@siride, thanks for the clarification. I think we agree, though, that accusative has been the default for a long time, much longer than grammatical prescription has been a force of any significance. –  nohat Jun 11 '11 at 5:10
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Remember The Little Red Hen? Proof that "Not I" is actually heard. –  shipr Aug 28 '12 at 22:21
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In traditional English folk songs you will often find lines like:

...Fair lady, could you fancy I?

and there's also:

I care for nobody, no not I, if nobody cares for me (The Miller of Dee)

I'm also reminded of Edmund Blackadder being irritated by an old witch's turn of phrase, and reprimanding her:

"It's Yes it is not That it be!" http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006xxw3

For anyone who doesn't know, this is a BBC comedy programme and the line is obviously done for comic effect, but it stems from the fact that 'it be' was commonly used at one time, and might still be used in certain English dialects.

It's clear that that many kinds of 'incorrect' or non-standard usage have been around for a long time and I don't think it's up to us (we) in the 21st century to tell them they were wrong. The point of language is communication. As long as there's no chance of confusion when using Not I/Not me, it's a matter for personal choice. Let it be!

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The correct answer, within confines of economical language, would involve use of the pronoun 'I.' E.g. 'I do' or 'I don't.' 'Not I' would be short for 'It is not I,' but that is not an economical way to answer this question. Still, 'not me' is just wrong because it cannot be short for anything. There is no grammatically correct statement that ends in 'not me.'

The argument that I hear often for the use of 'not me' or other incorrect uses of 'me' is that it has been going on 'for centuries' and 'it is common'; therefore, it should be deemed correct. However, this is an is-ought fallacy. Though it is common practice among those who do not know or care about English grammar; the abuse should not continue. There are generally good reasons for the rules of grammar, and this is a good rule to uphold.

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Why is this a good "rule" to uphold? Why not also the rule about sentences having to have a verb? Why does anything have to be short for something else? –  nohat Apr 27 '12 at 23:54
    
Why is this answer downvoted? It may be aggressively worded, but it makes the important point that "not me" is a sentence fragment that is not short for anything. –  dotancohen Apr 28 '12 at 19:39
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@dotancohen: Because it's wrong. When you respond to a question with a minor sentence, you follow the grammatical rules for minor sentences (which require objective case). –  Mechanical snail Oct 12 '12 at 3:08
    
The answer attempts to analyze it as a full sentence with the predicate omitted by ellipsis. This analysis is wrong because (1) the proposed full sentence differs in meaning, and (2) the full sentence is correctly 'It is not me' anyway. –  Mechanical snail Oct 12 '12 at 3:10
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protected by RegDwigнt Apr 27 '12 at 21:46

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