I'm currently using Cambridge English Advanced 1. It's a book that contains past examination papers, and includes numerous samples of authentic writing. This material helps, candidates and teachers, understand what the examiners are ‘testing’ and how these papers are marked.

The assessment covers four categories: content, communicative achievement, organisation and language. Each category is awarded a mark between 1 and 5, so the maximum score is 20, and each mark has a brief note attached by the examiner.

Any errors of punctuation, orthography, grammar, appropriacy, and vocabulary are left intact. In fact, there are no corrections because the ‘examiner’ does not specify where the errors lie. This can be frustrating, even though spelling mistakes are rare at the advanced level, and errors in style, collocation or register are still relatively easy to identify, sometimes I'll read a phrase that forces me to ponder.

Dear Director,

[ TEXT ]

To conclude, this letter is a polite request to cover the costs of a 2 month language course for my colleagues and me. We would be very pleased if the company would do us this favour.

Yours sincerely

John Smith

The following marks were awarded

Content                    5    blah, blah, …
Communicative Achievement  2    blah, blah, …    
Organisation               3    blah, blah, …
Language                   3    blah, blah, …

I am able to pick out six minor errors in that brief extract, maybe some users will identify more, maybe some will identify fewer, and maybe some will say that the language used is perfectly acceptable. But if I can help a candidate attain that elusive B, I would be delighted.

I am interested in (what could be) the 7th error, emphasised in bold.

Because the letter of proposal is formal, I feel the phrase, for my colleagues and me, is jarring. I want to change it to for my colleagues and I, but the antecedent requires an object.

You would not say: “This is a request to cover the cost […] for I”. So, why use the subject pronoun I in the expression “my colleagues and…”?

  • Could I use instead, myself?

  • Which of the following is preferable in a formal written proposal?

…for my colleagues and me
…for my colleagues and I
…for my colleagues and myself

EDITED: I found a pdf file of the writing sample (11/11) if anyone is interested.

I've looked at the following question, Should I put myself last? "me and my friends" vs. "my friends and me" or "my friends and I" Some answers appear to be contradictory, the accepted answer says using I and me are both grammatical, which in my example is not true. Moreover, there's no mention of myself, as a possible solution, in the question.

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    I don't understand where you're getting "answers." But I'd rewrite it "for me and my colleagues," on the grounds that it avoids confusion. None of the questions you cite deals with the objects of a preposition. – Xanne Sep 24 '17 at 4:59
  • @Xanne I've only cited one question? Why would writing "my colleagues and me" be less confusing? – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '17 at 7:26
  • I meant the questions you cited from ELU. Preferring "for me and my colleagues" is a style question here--thus opinion--but this is a letter signed by one person; just more direct. It's possible the parts of the letter you didn't include explain who these colleages are. Otherwise this would be an open-ended request. – Xanne Sep 24 '17 at 8:36
  • I'm one of those that identified fewer than 6 errors in the extract. I have a quibble about a missing comma after "Yours sincerely" but find the rest quite acceptable in a formal letter. As I understand it, what prompted this question was the palatability of the phrase "my colleagues and me". I find that (re)grouping the phrase as "for my colleagues and me" renders it completely unremarkable. That is to say, the words as written don't get in the way of conveying the message. – Lawrence Sep 24 '17 at 15:49
  • @Lawrence one of the minor errors is the salutation, would you address the director or CEO in the company where you work as "Mr Director" or "Mr CEO"? If you do not know the name of your company director, then the letter should be addressed Dear Sir or Madam, or "To the director of XYZ" and the letter should end with "Yours faithfully," and yes, the missing comma is one of the 6 minor errors I was able to identify. – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '17 at 15:56

When occurring as object of a preposition like this, both my colleagues and me and my colleagues and I would be found in the formal English of standard speakers. Of course, there are always people who'd like to try and rationalise the facts of the language into what they feel would be a more sensible way of doing things. But you can no more rationalise a language into common sense that you can rationalise your body into a more rational shape. If trying to make English into a different, more rational language, we could argue that because the first person pronoun in the co-ordination would appear in the accusative case if it appeared on its own as the object of a transitive preposition, it should appear in the accusative case when in a coordination:

  • a course for me
  • *a course for I (ungrammatical)

However, this ignores the fact that this pronoun is not the object of the preposition in the Original Example. The grammatical object of the preposition is a coordination of noun phrases.

Huddleston & Pullum say the following about non-subject co-ordinations with I as the second coordinate:

Because these coordinate nominatives are perceived to be associated with the avoidance of stigmatised accusatives in subject coordinations, they are often described as hypercorrections. This is to imply that they are 'incorrect', not established forms in the standard language. Construction [32i] with I as final coordinate is, however, is so common in speech and used by so broad a range of speakers that it has to be recognised as a variety of Standard English, and we will reserve the term hypercorrection for examples like [23ii] and [24].

An example sentence from [23i] is:

It would be an opportunity for you and I to spend some time together.

Regarding the CAE exam, it highly doubtful that the case of the pronoun in question is going to make any difference to the grade here. What is required is natural language of the appropriate style. Both me and I will suffice for this purpose. In terms of helping the student, I would tend to err on the side of range rather than absolute accuracy in any case if you are after one of those elusive higher grades.

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  • Quite frankly, what Pullam and Huddleston say on this matter does not cut much ice with the vast majority of readers of such letters who, I suspect, would fall into the category of those who immediately detect "hypercorrection" if I is used. – Greybeard Apr 26 at 8:26
  • @Greybeard Such constructions have been used by BBC newsreaders. Not that I like this. And not that I like, in general, CGEL's purloining of terms. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 at 15:14

... for my colleagues and I

This is just plain wrong, especially in formal writing. You don't use the nominative case as the object of the preposition. Would you ever say "... a language course for I"?

Me didn't think so.

... for my colleagues and myself

This sounds like it should be better, but only because the corresponding uses of my lend it a bit of symmetry. It is actually a questionable reflexive use of the pronoun.

Collins has this to say on the subject:

Usage Note: The -self pronouns, such as myself, yourselves, and herself, are sometimes used as emphatic substitutes for personal pronouns, as in He was an enthusiastic fisherman like myself. The practice is particularly common in compound phrases: The boss asked John and myself to give a brief presentation. Although these usages have been common in the writing of reputable authors for several centuries, they may not sit well with many readers today. A majority of the Usage Panel dislikes them, though resistance has been eroding over the years. In our 1993 survey, 73 percent disapproved of the fisherman example quoted above. In 2009, only 55 percent disapproved of the same sentence. The Panel still finds the use of -self pronouns in compound constructions even less appealing, but here too the percentages have fallen over the years. In 1993, the John and myself example was rejected by 88 percent of the Panel. In 2009, 68 percent rejected the same sentence.

It is worth noting that a majority of the above panel still finds such uses objectionable.

That leaves us with the much simpler (and to me stylistically preferable) me:

... for my colleagues and me

Again, for formal writing, you simply can't go wrong with this. At the very least it will satisfy the fussbudgets, and the others probably won't notice anyway.

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  • I'm deliberately holding off before upvoting, but this doesn't mean I disagree with you or do not appreciate your answer. – Mari-Lou A Sep 24 '17 at 7:34
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    @Mari-LouA If it's useful, upvote it! You can always upvote any other answers as well, and even accept a different one (if someone else manages to express it any better). – Andrew Leach Sep 24 '17 at 9:28
  • The advantage of "myself" is clear as "myself" is both the subject case, object case, and prepositional case (i.e. nominative, accusative and dative) of the word: ++ 1. "I myself agree with this observation"++ 2. "Please ask my colleagues or me/myself." (Me seems preferable) ++ "Please do this for my colleagues or me/myself." (Myself seems preferable.) – Greybeard Apr 26 at 8:36
  • @Greybeard I think it often boils down to the fact that 'myself' may sound pretentious vs 'me' can sound too weak / too uneducated. FEIW, I'd just go with 'myself' here. If spoken, 'me'. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 at 15:21

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