62

From some comments in the answers for common English usage mistakes (now deleted, 10k only), there's confusion around the usage of I vs. me:

While the sentence, "the other attendees are myself and Steve," is agreed to be incorrect, there's confusion about whether the correct form is "the other attendees are me and Steve" or "the other attendees are Steve and I."

(I've always used the heuristic of removing the other people from the sentence, so I always thought "the other attendee is me" would be correct, instead of "the other attendee is I." Is this true, or am I using a flawed heuristic?)

  • 2
    When mentioning other people, always remember to mention yourself last. It's manners. – Thursagen May 6 '11 at 8:18
  • 2
    The "rules" are based on inherently flawed heuristics. – Neil Coffey Sep 22 '11 at 0:07
59

Your method of removing the others is indeed correct. At least, that is what I used to do when I was in high school.

Always try using "I" or "me" in the singular, for the same sentence. For instance, people might say: "Robert and me are going to town." Which is wrong, because one does not say "Me am going to town." Therefore the correct way to say it is "Robert and I are going to town."

However, this sentence is also wrong: "The police arrested Robert and I", because if it were in the singular, one would not say "the police arrested I", it is, "the police arrested me." Therefore one should say, "The police arrested Robert and me."

  • 13
    Teachers I had were always telling us to use "Robert and I" not "Me and Robert"; but slavish adherence to this rule (without understanding it) means that many people are frightened to use "me" anywhere in a sentence ("because my teacher told me not to") and they incorrectly use "I" instead. Or "myself", which is just as bad. – njd Aug 9 '10 at 16:22
  • 1
    Yes, I also had teachers that forced me to use "I" when I should have used "me". I was incorrect until 5th form (grade 11) when I had a Greek English teacher who taught me all I know about grammar (well, I learnt more an university and after). It is better form to use "Robert and me" or "Robert and I", because it is good mannered to put yourself last. But it's more a manners thing than a grammatical thing. – Vincent McNabb Aug 11 '10 at 10:05
  • 7
    people whose first language has different declinations for nouns based on the case (nominative and accusative in this case) have it easier to know when to use “I” and when to use “me” :) – ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ Aug 22 '10 at 23:14
  • 1
    Yes -- in those languages that DO have declinations. But... the fact that English doesn't detracts from rather than supports the rationale behind the "rules" in question, and explains why the rules don't actually reflect how English works. – Neil Coffey Sep 22 '11 at 0:09
  • 8
    This rule is incorrect. The phrase "Me and Bob go to the store" has a subject which is "me and Bob". If you omit Bob, you make the subject "me", in which case it turns to "I". But it is a consistent rule that only when "I" is the only subject, so that it occupies the subject node of the sentence, that it appears as "I", and in all other cases, it appears as "me". This would make "Bill and me are happy" correct, and "Bill and I are happy" incorrect. The way to see that "Bill and I are happy" is a hypercorrection is to reverse the order: "I and Bill are happy" sounds awful. – Ron Maimon Mar 2 '12 at 6:45
19

If a pronoun is the subject of a verb, then you use I. Otherwise you use me.

Exceptions:

  • If it is the complement of a linking verb (such as be), traditional grammar says to use I in most circumstances, but this is very formal and use of me is extremely widespread in all but the most formal contexts.
  • Myself is used as the object of a reflexive verb (“I hurt myself”), as an intensifier (“I myself will go”), and can be used in absolutive clauses (“for my wife and myself it was a happy time”)
  • 8
    The last example sounded wrong to me. Could you explain why "for my wife and myself it was a happy time” would be preferred over "for my wife and me it was a happy time”? – oosterwal Feb 3 '11 at 0:06
  • 2
    @oosterwal, it’s an example from the Usage Note in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary entry for ‘myself’, which adds “Such uses almost always occur when the speaker or writer is referring to himself or herself as an object of discourse rather than as a participant in discourse.” – nohat Feb 3 '11 at 0:13
  • @oosterwal: remove 'my wife and' and you get 'for myself it was a happy time'. The word 'myself' is the object of the preposition 'for'; note also the verb 'to be' ('it was'). If the sentence were 'The society gave a gift to my wife and myself' there is a reflexive implication that the speaker is part of the society, cf. 'The society gave a gift to me,' where there is no implication that the giver was involved in the giving. – Jared Updike Feb 5 '11 at 18:06
  • This answer is wrong. – Ron Maimon Mar 2 '12 at 6:47
  • 2
    Linking verbs don't have objects. – Gary Clay Rector Sep 1 '15 at 9:10
10

Vincent McNabb has already answered this question but I would like to add one more point.

In older-fashioned prescriptive grammars, it was stated that "I" should be used as the complement of the verb "to be" in most circumstances, so that

It is I

rather than

It is me

was held to be the correct form. This only applied to verbs like "to be" that take predicative complements, so that, for example

Give it to I

was never regarded as a correct form.

  • 2
    Does this apply to the plural? "Who's there?" "It is we"? – J.T. Grimes Aug 9 '10 at 20:32
  • 5
    I'm not sure about that but I think that it does. As far as I can remember this whole caboodle is one of those things based on applying Latin grammar to English, but don't trust me on that. – delete Aug 13 '10 at 14:47
  • It has to do with cases, which are rarely considered in English. – oosterwal Feb 3 '11 at 0:10
  • 1
    You also forgot to mention that the rationale behind this rule is bollocks! – Neil Coffey Sep 22 '11 at 0:11
  • 1
    Be doesn't take an object. It takes a complement, which in formal writing is nominative (i.e., I), but in everyday speech antd informal writing, we use the oblique form (i.e., "me") after just about any verb, including linking verbs such as be. – Gary Clay Rector Sep 1 '15 at 9:14
8
+250

It depends on what you mean by “correct”.

As others have confirmed, your method of removing the other coordinated noun phrases, then checking if you have the correct case for the single remaining pronoun generally gives the “correct” result according to standard prescriptive thinking. In the rest of this post, I'll refer to this as “prescriptively ‘correct’ ” to avoid confusion.

As Ron Maimon argues, this rule is arguably not “correct” if we define that as meaning “in accordance with the underlying system of grammar that native English speakers naturally acquire”.

Prescriptive rules for position and case of pronouns

The following two rules for prescriptively “correct” pronoun use are widely endorsed today:

  1. Pronouns connected by coordinating conjunctions such as “and” or “or” should be put in the same case that a lone pronoun would have in the same position.

    Endorsed in “Excuse me, Mr. Trump!” [Grammarphobia]. This rule applies to all pronouns equally, so the application of this rule to “I” vs. “me” is exactly the same as the application to “we” vs. “us”, “he” vs. “him”, “she” vs. “her”, and “they” vs. “them”.

  2. First-person pronouns should come last in coordinate noun phrases.
    (Generally considered a rule of politeness rather than grammar, but it usually applies in circumstances where a user is trying to use prescriptively correct grammar.)

    Mentioned, but not endorsed or described as a grammar rule in “ ‘Me’ first?” [Grammarphobia]; endorsed by “Grammar Girl”. As I said, many grammar “mavens” seem to view this as more of a “guideline” than a rule of grammar, but it is still widely followed in practice. The construction “I and...”, which visibly follows (1) but not (2), generally sounds quite bad to native English speakers. On the other hand, the construction “me and...”, which violates "rule" (2), generally sounds much less objectionable (which is why many people are explicitly taught to avoid using it in subject position), and some people may consider it fully acceptable in situations where it does not violate rule (1) (that is, situations where objective case is prescribed by traditional grammar rules).

(The answers to “ ‘My friends and I’ vs. ‘My friends and me’ vs. ‘Me and my friends’ ” [ELU] also cover both of these rules to some extent, although the question itself focuses on the second.)

Because of rules (1) and (2), most English speakers agree that “Steve and I attended the conference” is the prescriptively “correct” form of “Me and Steve attended the conference.”

There is a third prescriptive rule about case that is fairly widely known. Probably there are some people who would say it is still “technically correct” or something like that, but in practice people rarely follow it or recommend following it nowadays, because it often results in sentences that sound terribly unnatural to pretty much everybody:

  1. When using a form of the verb “to be” to link two noun phrases, the complement (the part that normally comes after the form of “to be”) should be put in the same case as the subject.

    Covered in “Which one is correct to say: ‘It’s me’ or ‘It’s I’?” [ELU]; Grammarphobia (“How should you answer the phone?”) says to use this rule “if you want to be strictly correct,” but “in all but the most formal writing, ‘It’s me’ is now acceptable.”

    This rule is sometimes thought of as "use subjective case after a form of to be" but that is not an entirely accurate formulation of the prescriptive rule. To-infinitives often take subjects in the objective case (as in "I want them to come"); this means it is possible for the non-finite form "to be" to have a subject in objective case, and in that circumstance it is prescribed to also put the complement in the objective case. Examples: "I knew it to be him" or "a man, whom I believe to be him" (The Romance of the Forest, Ann Ward Radcliffe). Prescriptivists generally argue against usages like "I knew it to be he" or "a man, whom I believe to be he".

In a sentence like “The other attendee is me,” the subject of “is” (a form of to be) is the noun phrase “the other attendee”, which is in the subjective case. Therefore, according to rule (3), the complement should also be put in the subjective case: “The other attendee is I.” This would apply equally to a sentence with coordination, such as "The other attendees are Steve and I."

But as I said, even prescriptive grammar “authorities” don’t recommend following rule (3) in most circumstances in present-day English. (There are a few circumstances where it doesn’t sound terrible. For example, in constructions such as “It is I who...” where the pronoun is immediately followed by the subject relative pronoun “who,” most people apparently still prefer to use a subjective-case pronoun: see “It is I who am at fault?” [ELU]. Apparently, some people also find “This is she” or “This is he” acceptable in the specific context of answering the phone, but others, including me, find this stuffy.)

The prescriptive rule for pronoun case in coordinate noun phrases is likely “unnatural” for modern speakers

Nicholas Sobin in “Agreement, Default Rules, and Grammatical Viruses” argues that certain “prestige constructions” that occur in English speech and writing are not, and in fact cannot be, derived from the basic grammar of the language (the system that native speakers have internalized). According to Sobin, these “prestige constructions” occur in speech mainly as the output of what he calls “grammatical viruses”, which are processes external to the grammar proper. He identifies the use of subjective pronouns in coordinate noun phrases as one of these prestige constructions, and argues that it occurs mainly as the result of two viruses that he calls the “...and I...” Rule and the “that she...” Rule (Sobin 328). The actual grammar of English is supposed to produce objective pronouns like “me” and “her” in these contexts.

Sobin argues that these rules, as speakers usually apply them, have certain properties that are not characteristic of naturally acquired grammar rules. For example, the “...and I” virus exhibits lexical specificity, in that it affects the first-person singular pronoun more often than other pronouns, and overextension, in that it commonly affects a first-person pronoun that is part of the object of a verb or preposition (e.g. “between you and I”), which should not be able to receive nominative case according to the natural rules of English grammar. (Or according to the prescriptive rules, which is why it's termed “over”-extension.)

If I understand the argument correctly, it goes like this: the fact that speakers generally use unnatural “viruses” like this to simulate the prescriptive rules for prestige constructions, rather than simply internalizing the “correct” form of the prescriptive rule, constitutes evidence that the prescriptive rule is itself linguistically “unnatural” in some way (since linguistically natural rules are expected to be acquired without any memorable effort by native speakers).

Overall, I think the main take-away point from the “virus” idea is that it seems that there are many adult speakers who have been exposed to the prescriptively “correct” forms but have not acquired the prescriptively correct rule, even if they appear to at first glance. From a linguistic point of view, what that means is that the prescriptive rule doesn’t come naturally to English speakers: unlike the vast majority of rules pertaining to English word order and case, we don’t pick it up by default in childhood.

But “unnatural” doesn't necessarily mean “wrong”

The prescriptive rule being unnatural is not necessarily inconsistent with a prescriptivist viewpoint. Assuming “natural” is the same thing as “good” is called the “appeal to nature”; this is generally considered a fallacy. Many prescriptivists would concede that people don’t intuitively choose prestige forms; if they did, prescriptivists wouldn't have such a market peddling advice manuals to linguistically insecure speakers such as you and I. (Or should that be “such as me and you”? “Such as you and me”?) I think most thoughtful people could guess that a rule that is known to trip up even educated adult writers isn’t going to be easy for children to acquire. While the natural rules of grammar are of great interest to linguists, native speakers rarely spend much time learning about them because ... they come naturally. Whether it's ever worth the extra effort it takes to follow an unnatural rule is a matter of opinion, not fact.

Ron Maimon calls the use of nominative pronouns in coordinate noun phrases “an illiterate hypercorrection”. It's certainly possible to hold this opinion, but the word “illiterate” seems meaningless here aside from its derogatory connotation: the construction is clearly widely used by literate individuals.
 This is also not the way most people use the term “hypercorrection”: most linguists reserve this word for forms that are both unnatural and non-standard. The use of “NP and I” may be unnatural, but it's also widely considered to be standard in grammatical contexts that call for subjective case.
 (In objective-case contexts, “NP and I” is considered incorrect by present-day prescriptivists, although it's very common (Angermeyer & Singler 186). That usage has been called a hypercorrection, but in fact, Huddleston and Pullum's CGEL argues against using the term "hypercorrection" even in that case, saying that “NP and I” in objective-case contexts is too common in educated speech to be categorized as a nonstandard usage from a descriptive standpoint.)

The specific example of “The other attendees are me and Steve”

This sentence is especially likely to cause confusion because the pronoun is in an environment where several rules might apply. According to linguists like Sobin, the form produced by the basic English grammar system would be “The other attendees are me and Steve” (or possibly “The other attendees are Steve and me,” if we assume preferences for order are due to considerations outside of the grammar).

The form “The other attendees are Steve and me” could be produced by an application of the two main rules that I mentioned (use the form that would be used in a sentence without conjunction, such as “The other attendee was me,” and place first-person pronouns such as “me” last).

The form “The other attendees are Steve and I” could be produced in either of two ways. It could be the result of the two main rules mentioned above plus the third, less commonly applied rule about matching the case of a predicate nominal and its antecedent. Or it could instead be the result of the process that Sobin calls the “...and I” virus, which would also produce forms like “between you and I” that prescriptivists have traditionally condemned.

Bibliography

  • Sobin, Nicholas. “Agreement, Default Rules, and Grammatical Viruses.” Linguistic Inquiry Vol. 28, No. 2 (Spring, 1997), 318-343.

  • Angermeyer, Philipp S. & Singler, John Victor. “The case for politeness: Pronoun variation in co-ordinate NPs in object position in English.” Language Variation and Change, 15 (2003), 171–209.

Other relevant sources that I found after writing this post:

4

This situation, where a pronoun comes after a form of the verb "to be", is called a predicate nominative. It is technically correct for formal writing, but has come to sound pompous in colloquial speech:

"Who's there?" "It is I, darling."

  • 2
    I wouldn't say pompous. To say something like, "I was her that did that", is just ungrammatical. – Charlie Aug 10 '10 at 17:45
  • 2
    was refering to the phrase "It is I", which does indeed sound extremely pompous. – Anonymous Type Nov 1 '10 at 22:07
  • It sounds equally pompous if you use 'we', which is grammatically correct. "Who's there?" "It is us." – oosterwal Feb 3 '11 at 0:08
2

User moioci above broaches the term 'predicate nominative', so I thought to enlarge on it.

http://grammar.about.com/od/pq/g/predicatenominativeterm.htm:

● Predicate Nominatives and Direct Objects
"A predicate nominative is identical to a direct object in that it answers the question what or who. The difference between the two is that a predicate nominative will be the 'object' of a linking verb. The most common linking verb is be."
(Pam Mathis, Blueprints for Writing: Building Essays. Wadsworth, Cengage, 2014)

● Uses of the Predicate Nominative
"The predicate nominative is used with the verb to be and all its forms: be, am, is, are, was, were and been. Think of the verb as an equal sign: What's on one side of it is the same as what's on the other side, especially when it comes to pronoun case.

"For example, when you answer a phone and someone asks for you, you should say, This is he or This is she. You know the subject is in the nominative case. He or she is the predicate nominative. Going by the rules you should say It is I. Through widespread use, however, It's me has become acceptable."
(Buck Ryan and Michael J. O'Donnell, The Editor's Toolbox: A Reference Guide for Beginners and Professionals. Wiley-Blackwell, 2001)

http://painintheenglish.com/case/811/#comment-5260

[User] porsche, June 15, 2006, 3:26pm

Scott is correct, as is your second link from press.uchicago.edu. More precisely, the verb "to be" is a copulative verb, not a transitive verb. As such, it connects not subject and object, but two noun phrases of the same case. see:

http://www.alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxitsmev.html

Interestingly, this doesn't mean that you always use the nominative form. The verb "to be" links nominative to nominative or accusative to accusative. As long as the noun on both sides uses the same form.

  • 1
    "The verb "to be" links nominative to nominative or accusative to accusative." Who came up with that demented rule? "We have met the enemy, and him is us"??? Not even Walt Kelly's characters in Pogo, who had a complete disregard for grammar, would have said that. You should not use the accusative for the subject. – Peter Shor Apr 30 '17 at 17:40
  • @PeterShor: The sentence isn't saying that both patterns are interchangeable; just that they are both possible. The accusative/objective case is properly used in sentences like "They wanted it to be him." The pronoun "it" is in the objective case in this sentence because it is the subject of a to-infinitive, so the complement is also prescriptively supposed to be in the objective case. Another example could be "We have met the enemy, and we know him to be us." – sumelic Apr 30 '17 at 20:25
1

It's not so much that there's confusion per se. It's more that the arbitrary "rules" about 'I' and 'me' being used in particular cases was arbitrarily invented and then the inventors and followers of these arbitrary rules arbitrarily became surprised/indignant when it turned out that the language doesn't behave in accordance with their made-up rules. If anything, it's the rules and followers thereof that are "confused".

  • yes, this is true, but the rules must be clearly stated. The rule is that you use "I" when it is the subject node, not when it is at a different node. – Ron Maimon Mar 2 '12 at 6:48
0

I have noticed several problems in the other answers to this question, and I hope to correct them in mine.

Whenever the first-person singular pronoun is used in the nominative case, the correct form is "I." Examples:

  • I ate several apples. (subject of a predicate verb)
  • It was I who defeated you. (predicate nominative of a linking verb)

The existence of another word with the same function has no effect on this. The following are correct as well:

  • Evan and I ate several apples.
  • It was Evan and I who defeated you.

Note that order does not matter:

  • I and Evan ate several apples.

However, when the same pronoun is in the objective case, "me" is used instead:

  • That ball hit me. (direct object)
  • Darkness gives me chills. (indirect object)
  • Your humor is far beneath me. (object of a preposition)
  • Do you want me to assist you? (subject of an infinitive clause functioning as an object)

Once again, another object can be added:

  • That ball hit me and Evan.
  • Darkness gives me and Evan chills.
  • etc.

And once again, order is unimportant:

  • That ball hit Evan and me.

I hope this clears the matter up for you. If you are still confused about the different cases, give them a quick Google.

-3

The rule that one should use "I" whenever the first person is in the subject role is incorrect.

The correct rule is that "me" becomes "I" when the "me" is the subject node all by itself. If it is part of a clause that contains other things, and this clause is the subject, then the "I" is supposed to be "me", and it is an illiterate hypercorrection to use "I".

So the following sentence is the correct one:

  • Me and Bill worked 'til 4

This one is wrong

  • I and Bill worked 'til 4

The reason is that "I and Bill" is the subject, and the first person descriptor "I/me" is happening at a level lower than the subject. The subject is a conglomeration. When the subject is an agglomeration including "I", then "I" becomes "me". This rule is consistent, and allows for easier transformations, since the whole clause "me and Bill" can be moved to a subject as a unit without having to muck around in the interior, scanning to find the "I's" and changing them to "me's"

  • Jack, Bill, me, Harry, and Jane worked late. We asked the guard to open the door.
  • Who did the guard open the door for?
  • For Jack, Bill, me, Harry and Jane.

No internal scan required to objectify the list. It's already an object. Nobody likes to be forced to scan inside a lexical unit.

Unfortunately, the hypercorrection "Bill and I work late", has been floating around for a long time, so that it starts to sound ok too. To see that

  • "Bill and I work late"

is not grammatical, just reverse the order;

  • "I and Bill work late"

This version sounds like ungrammatical nonsense to any speaker of English. This is very strange, since the order should not matter at all.

  • "Me,Jane and Bob are happy to work here."
  • "I, Jane and Bob are happy to work here."

The second again sounds like garbage. The reason is that the construction "Bill and I worked late" has been forced down children's throats, so they accept it now, although it is, and always was, ungrammatical nonsense in English.

  • 2
    I do, in general, agree with this analysis, but I think calling it an ungrammatical hypercorrection is perhaps overstating the case. The truth is that, of the group of people who find themselves in a position to actually make pronouncements about what is and isn't grammatical, this is a pretty minority view. – nohat Mar 2 '12 at 7:13
  • 1
    We could just as easily argue "I and Bill" sounds like garbage because the convention of putting oneself last has been forced down children's throats. – John Y May 8 '12 at 1:22
  • 1
    As for the contention that credentialed grammarians are guilty of not providing enough information to make the New York Times readable by computer, how is it the fault of those who study a natural language that the language is inconsistent, constantly evolving, and doesn't even have a "full spec"? – John Y May 8 '12 at 1:30
  • 3
    This answer is wrong. Use "Bill and I worked till four." (Note that "'til" is a variant of "till" that is best avoided.) "Bill and I work late" is NOT a hypercorrection -- that's the way you're supposed to say it. It doesn't matter how many nouns are compounded to make up the subject of a sentence. If the first person singular occurs in the the subject phrase, it should be "I," not "me." On the other hand, saying "between you and I" and the like is wrong. It's "between you and me." – Gary Clay Rector Sep 1 '15 at 9:16
  • 1
    @RonMaimon: As Gary Clay Rector stated, this answer is just plain wrong. For a response to the question that explains not only what the rule is (correctly, might I add), but also why it is that way, see my answer above. – Khuldraeseth na'Barya May 2 '17 at 4:39

protected by tchrist Aug 12 '13 at 23:08

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.