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I was in a text exchange with a friend from Mexico. English is his second language. He deigned to correct something I, whose English is my first language, texted... "When you, me, Tony, and Gabi met here it was March 16, 2016, a Wednesday." He reasonably thought it should be, "When I, you, and Tony..."

I talk good so I desperately searched the Internet for an answer that would put him back in his place. I came across this page where StoneyB explained that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language defines "when" as a preposition". Then I found another source that said a preposition should be followed by an objective pronoun (such as me, him, her, and us) rather than a subjective pronoun (such as I, he, she, and we).

"Woohoo!", I'm thinking. That's how I destroy... err, I mean correct my friend. So, do you think, "When you, me, Tony, and Gabi met here..." is correct, or at least not wrong? Thanks!

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    You wouldn't say "When me met Tony..." would you? – Kate Bunting Dec 14 '19 at 17:49
  • @KateBunting Though many a teacher has told that rule to their pupil, it does not reflect how English is spoken in practice. Only grammar nerds actually answer the question, "Who was there?" with "I," for instance. Real English pronoun use does not quite align with case. – Mike Graham Dec 14 '19 at 18:58
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    That being said, in this case "When you, Tony, Gabi, and I met here it was..." is certainly the most recommended form. – Mike Graham Dec 14 '19 at 19:00
  • @KateBunting, me might. – Ford Prefect Dec 14 '19 at 21:50
  • english.stackexchange.com/q/1047/14666 – Kris Dec 15 '19 at 12:27
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There may be two applicable schools of thought.

On the one hand, the coordination "you, Tony, Gabi and [me/I]" introduces a clause that serves as the object of the preposition "when". As (a portion of) an object, we might expect "me" to take its objective form. On the other and, the coordination "you, Tony, Gabi and [I/me]" serves as the subject of its own clause. We might expect "I" to take its subjective form.

I can tell you that, in my idiolect, "I" works. The coordination might introduce an object, but the coordination is a subject. You, Toni, Gabi and I met here. The argument of the preposition "when" is not merely the subject of the clause but rather the clause in its entirety. Clauses have no case, but subjects and objects do.

Your proposed "you, me, Tony and Gabbi" is not an object, but merely a fraction of one. You can't put your friend in his place, as he has already placed himself well enough. The best that you can do is to find some members of that respected set of authors whose English is generally regarded as impeccable, whose usage happens to agree with yours. You can show him that your place is not measurably worse than his.

Even once you've done so, you'll find that second-person first and first-person last remains a preferred ordering. This, of course, is a question of style rather than grammar. Still, "you, Tony, Gabbi and I" fairs better than the phrasing that either you or your friend proposed.

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  • Ok, that's going to take a little thought and study to digest. :) Thank you @GaryBotnovcan! – Ford Prefect Dec 14 '19 at 23:40
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StoneyB explained that the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language defines "when" as a preposition" which should be followed by an objective pronoun (such as me, him, her, and us) rather than a subjective pronoun (such as I, he, she, and we).

You didn't provide a link to @StoneyB's explanation, but I don't believe that by treating 'when' as a preposition he meant that it should be followed by an objective pronoun. When CGEL says 'when' can be a preposition, the definition of 'preposition' is expanded to include cases where a preposition can take a finite clause such as we met here. In traditional grammar, a preposition cannot take a finite clause, so 'when' would be classified as a conjunction in your example.

Therefore, 'when' being a preposition in CGEL is a red herring in your question. The real issue is whether it's correct to use you, me, Tony, and Gabi met here as a finite clause. And the answer is, it depends on how you define 'correct'.

The general rule of thumb is, you can use me as a subject of a finite clause, only if in a coordination. Your subject is in coordination, so your use might be correct. But some speakers might object to using me except when it's the first component of the coordination. So this would sound better to them than your version:

me, you, Tony, and Gabi met here

As others have noted, using I would be better to some speakers, but in this case, I should be placed at the end:

?I, you, Tony and Gabbi met here

?you, I, Tony and Gabbi met here

?you, Tony, I and Gabbi met here

you, Tony, Gabbi and I met here

Having said all that, it's not uncommon in casual speech that a native speaker uses me as part of a subject in coordination with me not necessarily located at the outset. So you're not alone in feeling you, me, Tony, and Gabi met here sounds okay.


As a side note, I don't particularly like your second sentence:

He deigned to correct something I, whose English is my first language, texted...

I think it's confusing to use the verb deign like that.

Also, you might not want to say:

my English is my first language

Instead, you might want to say:

English is my first language

So it'd be better to say:

...to correct something I, whose first language is English, texted...

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  • A beautiful and impressive reply @JK2. And your correction reg. my second sentence makes sense and sounds better. I thought is sounded a little awkward when I submitted it. Thank you! – Ford Prefect Dec 15 '19 at 6:32
  • Glad you like it. – JK2 Dec 17 '19 at 3:22

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