I came to "English Language & Usage" in hopes of clarifying a common "Me" or "I" question, and found significant consensus as long as convention is followed: "Me and my wife went to the movies" is incorrect grammar. However, the consensus also seems to be that "I and my wife went to the movies" is incorrect usage because the convention is to "put yourself last because it is polite". So "I and my wife went to the movies" is correct, but don't ever use it!

Which prompted my question: Do rules of grammar apply to unconventional language usage? I understand that it is a simple question for a nuanced subject, but it seems in this example you're left with "Yes, the rules of grammar apply as long as you follow this other thing which is not a rule"!

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    Grammatical "rules" aren't like "laws of nature". Effectively, they're either conventions (people copying what other people say), or formalised explanations (of what people say). So in many cases the very reason why you might describe a usage as "unconventional" is precisely because it doesn't follow the rules of grammar. And I and people like me wouldn't say I and my wife went to the movies is "incorrect" - it's just "non-idiomatic" for most people. – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '15 at 21:08
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    You need to ask yourself what your understanding of 'rules of grammar' is and whether it is realistic. Quirk and Svartvik suggest a 5-point gradience for acceptability of constructions (this has been covered here before). They deal with the reality that some people (well educated anglophones) will accept as correct a construction that others won't. So there is no binding agreement on what the 'rules of grammar' actually are; how can one pronounce on 'whether they apply to unconventional language usage'? – Edwin Ashworth Oct 25 '15 at 21:59
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    Define "unconventional". – Hot Licks Oct 25 '15 at 22:25
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    Okay, I've voted to close the question on the grounds that answers would be primarily opinion-based, that its unclear what you're asking, and that the question is too broad to admit an answer of appropriate length. I think it might be a valuable question to have answered here or on the meta site, but as it stands the question isn't susceptible to a good answer, and you don't seem willing to address the problems. – JEL Oct 26 '15 at 20:01
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    @JEL New to StackExchange and not sure what voting to close the question entails, but for what it's worth the question has not been answered -- and to be fair perhaps it couldn't be -- but the answers, comments and exchanges have been very enlightening. – rwhtx Oct 26 '15 at 20:29

Linguists study grammars in order to describe them. As such, they ask questions like 'How do English speakers order nouns and pronouns that collectively constitute the subject of a sentence?' (e.g. my wife and I denotes the subject of your example sentence) and 'Under what conditions might English speakers order them differently?'. As such, the way that speakers use a language determines its grammar.

We might define language A as the set of words and permutative rules that enable a set of people to comprehend one another when they use that set of words and rules to communicate.

Therefore, unconventional use isn't ungrammatical use, so long as speakers of the language can comprehend it.

Questions on the appropriateness of phrases such as 'I and my wife' are, at bottom, stylistic questions.

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    First, some background: 1) new to this forum, 2) not a linguist, and 3) while a native english speaker ... I am from Texas. My interest was in what I assume are generally accepted "Rules of Grammar" and commonly accepted (or prescribed) usage. And in that context, I must admit the answer and the comments do not provide much clarity. But in retrospect, perhaps the subject is too nuanced for a simple question. – rwhtx Oct 25 '15 at 23:22
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    herefore, unconventional use isn't ungrammatical use That's not right, lots of ungrammatical language can still be understood because there's sufficient redundancy that we can identify the errors. – curiousdannii Oct 26 '15 at 1:06
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    @rwhtx The problem is that there is no such thing as generally accepted rules of grammar: different people (many claiming to be authorities, none without overstating their own status) will give you different rules. In “commonly accepted usage” (by which I mean what people actually say and understand without batting an eyelid), both me and my wife and I and my wife and my wife and me are in fact perfectly standard and conventional. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 26 '15 at 1:43
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    Of course there are generally accepted rules of grammar. "My dog are the goodest" is most certainly bad grammar (and spelling) -- even if everybody doesn’t agree on what good grammar is. But that is not the point. What is interesting is the concept of a set of rules applying only to a defined construct which is itself a set of rules, and if the occurrence is outside that construct the rules do not apply, i.e. grammar is the set of rules on how to speak or write if you speak or write according to the rules. It seems odd, and brings into question the legitimacy of the rules in the first place. – rwhtx Oct 26 '15 at 3:23
  • @rhtwx Yeah, I don't think the comprehensible=grammatical answer works for particular sentences. But note that there would be a comprehension problem if you were to present that sentence more abstractly: if you had written x are the goodest, I would have interpreted it to presuppose the existence of more than one x. In regard to the goodest, why we use best instead of goodest is a question about the English lexicon and not so much a question about English grammar. – Hal Oct 26 '15 at 14:07

There's no such thing as "conventional" English.

There's standard English, and also formal English and informal English. There are also dialects. The rest is just idiocy.

1. My wife and I went to the movies last night.

This is standard English.

2. Me and my wife went to the movies the other night.

This is totally wrong but perfectly acceptable.

3. A friend called my wife and I the other night.

Idiocy. Wait, it gets worse:

4. I reserved seats for my wife and I.

Thing is there used to be, and still is, a rather large group of people (an entire class in fact) known as the Philistines. (Well, they used to be known as the Philistines: the word is all but forgotten today because Philistines are easily offended while constituting a significant portion of the electorate).

They wish to come off as "educated" ("genteel") without actually learning anything. They believe they can get away with a few adjustment to their speech and manners. Someone explained to them at some point that "me" was wrong and "I" was right. They pounced on it. To this day they're convinced that so long as they say "I" where their instincts urge them to say "me," they'll come off as "educated" ("genteel") and will be able to condescend to anyone who says "me."

The problem with that approach is that sometimes saying "I" instead of me is correct, and sometimes it isn't. Oh, and there are instances when neither "I" nor "me" applies, and one actually needs to use "myself" instead. Don't tell the Philistines, their heads will explode.

Earnest and intelligent discourse on the English case system is all but impossible today, for various reasons.

The rule of thumb is you can arrive at the correct way of saying things by locking the wife up in the closet for a moment.

A friend called I the other night. I reserved a seat for I the other night.

Both are clearly idiotic. That's because when the action is directed towards you (i.e. when the case is not nominative), you must use "me," and sometimes you must use "myself" (as in "for my wife and myself").

Another way to look at it is to remember that you should use "me" where you would use "her" and "him," and "I" where you would "she" and "he." (Try saying "A friend called my wife and she the other night." Stupid, right? That's exactly how people sound when they say "A friend called my wife and I the other night."

A Philistine is a person whose position in the food chain exceeds their cultural and/or spiritual level.

Something like that.

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    Can you add an authority clearly defining 'standard English'? Or is this an assumption? – Edwin Ashworth Oct 25 '15 at 22:34
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    Can you add an authority clearly defining authority? Goodness. – Ricky Oct 25 '15 at 22:42
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    Earnest and intelligent discourse on the English case system is all but impossible today Certainly if we're to go by this answer. – deadrat Oct 25 '15 at 22:56
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    I've added a downvote not because of your refusal to address what you mean by 'standard English' (which has been argued over here before), but because 'This is totally wrong but perfectly acceptable.' is worse than the errors you are calling 'idiocy' etc. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 25 '15 at 23:13
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    @Ricky It's true that there's no accepted central authority that governs what is and is not acceptable English, but you make a lot of strong assertions in this answer, and the SE requires that any assertions that aren't self-evident be backed up with some kind of reference or sufficiently demonstrative example - Otherwise, the correctness of your answers will only be apparent to people who know the correct answers already, rather than to people who would actually benefit from some instruction. – user867 Oct 25 '15 at 23:13

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