The sentence, "A younger me sat outside," though colloquially acceptable appears to be contrary to the rules of English pronomial declension. However, the allegedly more correct sentence "A younger I sat outside" seems jarringly wrong.

Is there citation for the former in formal prose, or the latter at all? Do any style guides comment on the issue? Perhaps the pronoun takes on a more abstract, conceptual definition of the self that is conveyed only by "me" and not by "I."

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    In more formal language you would probably write 'a younger version of myself'; definitely not 'a younger I'. – Kate Bunting May 9 '19 at 8:08
  • Oliver sat next to the fire. 1. A younger he sat outside. 2. A younger him sat outside. The object pronoun sounds terribly wrong in this case. – Zan700 Jun 10 '19 at 7:56
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    You say that a younger I is allegedly more correct, but who alleges this, and on what grounds? For me it's ridiculous. In A younger me peered back at me from the yellowing photo, the subject is a younger me - it is not me. I think this is a non-issue. – user339660 Jun 11 '19 at 2:49
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    Orwell's Sixth Law (I can't remember it verbatim: I'll paraphrase): 'Break any of [the other laws (of grammar)] rather than end up with something that sounds outlandish'. 'A younger me' is, in its place, as acceptable as "It's me / us". – Edwin Ashworth Jun 11 '19 at 16:22
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    The acceptability of a younger me as subject is not, in fact, "contrary to the rules of English pronominal declension". Me is declined as the objective 1sg pronoun, which is the default form for any usage except as possessive (my, mine), and as pronoun subject immediately before the verb it agrees with (I). In the NP a younger me, me is not a pronoun subject because it's the head noun. And it doesn't agree with the verb. You can't tell that in past tense, but in the present it would be A younger me sits outside, 3sg, not 1sg. – John Lawler Jun 14 '19 at 2:06

This phrasing appears a lot. In a subject position, phrases like "a younger me" function as ordinary singular noun phrases rather than as pronouns.

First, from Wil McCarthy. "The Policeman's Daughter." Analog, vol. 125, iss. 6, June 2005, p. 8-34, as found on the Corpus of Contemporary American English.

Even a younger me, a green me fresh out of school, is better qualified than most attorneys to wrestle this particular alligator.

In this case, me (the first person pronoun in the objective case) is being treated as a noun referring to the speaker. The verb is corresponds to any singular third person noun phrase, rather than to a first person noun phrase, further signalling that this isn't a usual pronominal usage. Finally, it takes an indefinite article, specifying that this is one of several possible mes who fits the criterion of each adjective (younger, green). Such objectification works in a speculative fiction story that involves the technology of copying oneself.

Second, from Tom Ough. "Sir Richard Branson: 'If anything goes wrong, I put it out of my mind and move on.' " The Telegraph, 26 Nov. 2017.

A younger me might have been disappointed to know I’ve remained a dreadful driver.

Because the adjective modifies something about the speaker (younger, fitter, stronger), the usage commonly precedes modal verb phrases like "might have ..." and "would have ..." (News on the Web features several further results like this from credible publications.) Talking about oneself in this way allows a speaker to speculate about their performance without using a more verbose turn of phrase:

When I was younger, I might have been disappointed to know ...

A younger version of me might have been disappointed to know ...

I can't find the usage "a younger me" earlier than the 20th century (Google Books search). While adjective-me constructions are much older than that ("And make a conquest of unhappy me" is from Shakespeare), the me-as-reference-to-myself crops up in the 19th century (Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1828, "Haunted and blinded by some shadow of his own little Me"). Here's another example from Rudyard Kipling, "Divided Destinies," orig. 1886 (here from 1900):

An inscrutable Decree Makes thee a gleesome fleasome Thou, and me a wretched Me.

Note the switch to the nominative from "thee" to "thou" but the use of "me" both times. This specific usage is peculiar to "me."

Why "me" and not "I?" Dictionaries mainly indicate that I is unlikely to be encountered in this way. The Oxford English Dictionary, "me, pron.1, n., and adj." documents several uses of "me" with adjectives and various articles under "B. n." (the Shakespeare, Carlyle, and Kipling quotes are all from here). However, there is no specific entry for uses like "a younger me," perhaps because it is recent enough to not be documented by lexicographers.

Meanwhile, there appears to be even less on noun uses of "I" with adjectives - a few entries, a few examples, and none in the spirit of "a younger I." In the example sentences, the "a/an" article never appears, and the adjectives are primarily "other," showing a more restrictive pattern than examples of "me." So the OED suggests - in an absence of precedence - that "a younger I" wouldn't work.

Corpus searches provide further evidence of absence. "A younger I" doesn't turn up in COCA or NOW as a distinct noun phrase.

Why are "a younger I" and similar uses rare or nonexistent? It could be arbitrary. It could also be something about the case structure of the first person pronoun that noun-me comes from: speakers may use the objective case to create distance between I-as-speaker and me-as-addressee. Since in these examples "I" is the position of the speaker or writer, me creates a discontinuity between the speaker and the younger/green/better qualified/unhappy/wretched self. In other words, me provides further disambiguation for readers who would expect the speaker's own thoughts and actions to come in first-person "I" in the nominative case.

  • A significant element of the question is the choice of "I" over "me", but is it purely arbitrary? It looks like it doesn't matter whether the noun phrase is the subject or object (e.g. your last sentence "the hypothetical me"), and the adjective doesn't matter either: it's more about the construction "the me" vs "the I". For those without online access to OED, could you quote the relevant "B. n." definition/usage? How does the noun use of "me" compare with the noun use of "I" in the OED? – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Jun 11 '19 at 23:06
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    Overall I find that both entries muddy the water, which is one of two reasons I don't include them. (The other is whether including entire entries on a for-profit website would violate fair use.) Nonetheless, I expanded that part with further explanation and additional searching on COCA and NOW. – TaliesinMerlin Jun 12 '19 at 17:09

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum has a subsection "Pre-head internal dependents normally excluded too" (Page 430):

Pronouns do not normally allow internal pre-head dependents: *Extravagant he bought a new car; *I met interesting them all. The qualification ‘normally’ caters for one minor exception, the use of a few adjectives such as lucky, poor, silly with the core personal pronouns:

[12] i Lucky you! No one noticed you had gone home early.

ii They decided it would have to be done by poor old me.

The adjective is semantically non-restrictive, and the NP characteristically stands alone as an exclamation, as in [i]. It can be integrated into clause structure, as in [ii], but not as subject (*Poor you have got the night shift again). The pronoun must be in accusative or plain case (compare Silly me! and *Silly I!).

(Emphasis mine.)

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    I've heard and used something like "Silly me went and made the same mistake again", and while my English professor might frown lots of people wouldn't. But "Silly I..." isn't going to be liked by anyone. – DJClayworth Jun 10 '19 at 3:21
  • @DJClayworth Interesting. – JK2 Jun 10 '19 at 3:24
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    I don't think the structure mentioned here is relevant to the construction used in "A younger me sat outside". "Lucky you" and "poor old me" don't have an article, but "a younger me" does. "A younger me" is acceptable for me as a subject, even though it might not be OK in a formal register. – herisson Jun 10 '19 at 7:36
  • @sumelic Good point. This turns out to be trickier than I thought. – JK2 Jun 11 '19 at 2:53
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    @Lambie When CGEL says "It can be integrated into clause structure...but not as subject", "It" is not an adjective but an NP. Duh! – JK2 Jun 12 '19 at 22:47

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