15

I heard an American radio personality, university graduate, was saying, "Me and Adam have discovered a lot of weird things since we came to Japan."

I guess the expression above would be a natural wording for native speakers in their daily conversations. My question is not about grammatical things like the difference between I and Me, but the naturalness of the expression itself. How natural does that sound to you? Can we use that in some formal settings too?

45

Using "me" (or indeed other object pronouns) like this generally considered to be grammatically incorrect, because a subject pronoun ("I") should be used as subject of the verb.

In formal (and probably everyday middle-of-the-road) language, this misuse of object pronouns is to be avoided. You should use "Adam and I", with "I" after the "and", because "I and Adam" sounds awkward (and grandiose).

But "me" as a subject is relatively common in informal language. Certainly I remember using sentences like "Me and Simon are going to the park" in the school playground, only to be rebuked by my teachers in the classroom.

In the classroom we learn to say "Simon and I are going to the park" instead, using a subject pronoun, because Simon and I are the subjects of the verb to go.

If we have good teachers, we learn to check by removing the other person: "Simon and I are going..." becomes "I am going", which sounds ok, so we say it. This way, when the pronoun should correctly be an object pronoun, we get it right even when Simon is in the way: "The dog attacked me" so "The dog attacked Simon and me". And we don't have to learn nasty words like accusative.

If we didn't pay enough attention though, or had bad teachers, we'll think the rule is that you never say "Simon and me" and always "Simon and I". So we start producing hyper-correct forms like "The dog attacked Simon and I", where "I" is a subject pronoun instead of the required object pronoun ("me"). Or "Mr Smith give Simon and I the belt for bad grammar" (should be "Simon and me"). And people who learnt this and in later life find some authority while avoiding dates with descriptivist grammarians might start hyper-correcting people who otherwise use their pronouns correctly (effectively? pragmatically?).

This all gets scary pretty fast, and so we might instead fudge things by using "myself" etc., which is also wrong, but less likely to draw ire: "Myself and Simon are going drinking in the park", or "the dog attacked Simon and myself". Forms like these are common in colloquial speech in Glasgow, where I live, and not a million miles from the entirely correct "I myself am going drinking", with "myself" as an emphatic pronoun.

But we can also take revenge on these ill-informed hyper-correct pedants and, to spite our expensive university educations, start dropping forms like "Me and Adam have discovered a lot of weird things since we came to Japan" into our radio conversations. It's more fun than explaining to somebody that French has disjunctive pronouns and 1066 and all that so why can't English because "Simon et moi allons au parc ce soir" is ok? It's more rootsy than opining that English speakers must have a pretty weak grip on grammatical case these days if Simon and Adam's getting in the way is enough to muck it up....

Maybe what we're really learning is that our American radio personality's gig researching weirdness in Japan is enough of an indicator of social prestige that he doesn't need the crutch of prescriptive grammar to get ahead, except of course when it came to writing the application to get the job in the first place. If they is a reasonably sophisticated user of language, perhaps with a penchant for swiping pragmatist linguists right, s/he can likely adapt xir pronouns to the situation, (un)consciously confident that good language is really all about communicative power... Or maybe instead we'll one day hear a radio programme regretfully imploring the grandchildren to invest in Grammarly after a later-life realisation that pronominal correction is a socio-political power play and hell, the history of English from the Anglo-Saxon swamp til now tells us that it's always more fun to wield power by proxy than receive hit like me, Adam and hyper-correct I did.

Such digressions aside, I'm struggling slightly to think of a situation where saying "Me and Adam" instead of "Adam and I" without a change in word order or stress changes the meaning EXCEPT in terms of social signalling -- something I gather Japanese knows about. Maybe something like "Sally saw Steven and I went home and had breakfast", versus "Sally saw Steven and me went home and had breakfast". But even here, putting a comma or pause in makes more of a difference: in "Sally saw Steven and I, went home and had breakfast", Sally gets the food, whereas in "Sally saw Steven, and me went home and had breakfast" the breakfast is likely me's comfort food.

To summarise: in informal language it's quite frequent, potentially common, potentially natural, and doesn't really affect meaning. But please don't say "Adam and me would be excellent choices for the post of Pronoun Safety Officer" in formal communication that matters.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Some guidane more helpful than this at grammar.yourdictionary.com/style-and-usage/… – phhu Jul 8 at 23:56
  • 4
    Thank you phhu for the detailed explanation. It is amazing and very helpful and understandable. Thank you very much for taking your time to write the in-depth answer.. – Takashi Jul 9 at 0:26
  • 4
    Good on you for pointing out hyper-correction. Just between you and I, double can't standard. A reference or two would help your answer; welcome to ELU. – livresque Jul 9 at 3:03
  • Thanks. I've added some references. – phhu Jul 9 at 11:45
  • 1
    I think the "I and someone" versus "Someone and I" part is about more than it just sounding weird. In Dutch I was taught that not putting yourself is a matter of good manners. I played a bit with Google's n-gram viewer and the results do seem to suggest that there is a similar preference for not putting "me" first. Of course, the "vowel collision" of "I and" is probably also a part of the story and possibly explains why it's less on the rise than "me and". – Jasper Jul 9 at 12:25
7

I think the reason this causes confusion is that children are often corrected without explaining why.

For example: a child says “Me and Pete are going to play a game.”  This is wrong, so they they're told to say ‘Pete and I’ instead of ‘Me and Pete’.  However, the child hears that ‘Me and Pete’ is always wrong, and then either overcorrects to “The teacher asked to see Pete and I after class.” — which is equally wrong — or realises that ‘Pete and me’ is correct in that case and so disregards the original instruction completely.  Or, more likely, just gets confused.

The real point, which doesn't get explained, is of course that I/me inflects even when it's in a compound.

So: “I think that…” → “Pete and I think that…”

But: “He hit me.” → “He hit Pete and me.”

I think what makes this unintuitive is the separation between pronoun and verb in some of these cases.  If you put the other person first, then you clearly get “Pete and I think…”, because “…me think…” would sound wrong.  But while “…hit I” would sound equally wrong, “hit Pete and I” doesn't trigger the same reaction due to the intervening words.  (Similarly, if you put yourself first, then intervening words make the “Me and Pete went…” sound less obviously wrong than “Me went…” would.)  I suspect that's why people who put themselves first tend to get the subject case wrong, while people who put themselves last tend to get the object case wrong.

Obviously this is part of a broader discussion about register, dialect, and when formal correctness is desirable.  (As a self-confessed pedant, I think correctness is always desirable, of course!  Not just for consistency and simplicity, but also because it reduces ambiguity.)  However, I think it's useful to understand the principles and why people don't pick them up easily.

| improve this answer | |
6

'Correct', and 'wrong' are words used to describe speech taught by language teachers and by newspaper copy editors, but they are not very useful for describing how people actually speak and write.

Native English speakers and non-native alike are taught things like "Use the nominative 'I' in subject position (and at the end if in a conjunction)." in order to give the formal

Adam and I are...

The latter is what is called the 'standard' way of saying it. However, when speaking informally, the pattern to follow is:

Me and Adam are...

The latter is perfectly grammatical for a less than formal register. Some might call it 'bad English' or 'nonstandard' but it is exactly the thing to say in informal circumstances.

Of course if you are learning English or writing or in most circumstances you should favor the standard version because it sounds more educated and acceptable. But educated and acceptable are not the same thing as correct.

To be clear, no one says

Me is...

or

and I Adam

Those are definitely never said and is ungrammatical in all varieties of English (that I am aware of). The first one seems inconsistent with "Me and Adam are..." but language isn't always strictly logical or with only simple rules. The second one is just absurd (for English, but might work in some other language).

So if you want to sound informal, the way to say it is "Me and Adam" (OK sometimes people say "Adam and me". I doubt anybody would ever say "I and Adam" but I'm not sure).

If you feel like you must use 'correct' and 'wrong' then you should probably say something like "X is correct for the formal register". But better would be "X is the pattern that is (almost always) used" (in the default register or variety being talked about).

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Thank you Mitch for your answer. In our daily lives, we use a lot of oral expressions that may not be grammatically or logically correct, and it is so in my native language (Japanese) too. Generally speaking, they are common and acceptable in informal conversations, but should be avoided in formal situations. This is exactly what I wanted to confirm with native speakers of English. – Takashi Jul 9 at 0:30
  • 12
    I agree that the "me and Adam" form is very common in informal speech, and I don't object to its use, but I wouldn't go as far as saying it is the pattern to follow when speaking informally, it's fine to say "Adam and I are..." if that's one's preference. – nnnnnn Jul 9 at 3:26
  • 1
    ‘and I Adam’ is definitely grammatical if you give it the right context! e.g. ‘He is Douglas, and I Adam’ is fine. (I know this doesn’t affect your argument in any way, but I felt that I wanted to point this out…) – bradrn Jul 9 at 9:03
  • 1
    While this is an interesting read on the matter of formal/informal language, and whether "grammatically correct" is a meaningful distinction to make, I fail to see how it actually addresses the question of "can we use the colloquial-but-grammatically-incorrect form in formal speech or text?" – Chronocidal Jul 9 at 10:05
  • 1
    @Chronocidal re: "Can we use it ...in formal speech?". I say that it is OK for less than formal speech, and with the preceding and following sentences one can infer that one does not use it in formal speech. Where exactly the boundary is is vague. 'Me and' is rare in writing but I feel like it is much more common in the between space of formal-informal than people realize. – Mitch Jul 9 at 12:58
3

When speaking, we sometimes say things that aren't grammatically correct, such as the example you shared above. However, in writing, we (at least, those who care about grammar) tend to sound as grammatically correct as possible. So, no, "Me and Adam" in that instance is definitely inaccurate, therefore it sounds unnatural. If you omit "and Adam" from the sentence, then it would be "Me have discovered..." So, if you can, try to think before you speak, and learn from this radio personality. =)

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. So you'd be happy to accept anything what I writes here as proper English just 'cos it's what I says when I's nattering with me mates down't boozer? What's t' point o' this 'ere forum at all then if there ain't no rules? – BoldBen Jul 8 at 23:42
  • 2
    Thank you all for your comment. Asa's answer is exactly what I thought. – Takashi Jul 9 at 0:22
  • 1
    @NigelJ You disagree that answers are meant to help readers, not misinform them? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jul 9 at 10:17
  • 1
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. As I said .... Kind Regards. – Nigel J Jul 9 at 10:28
  • 1
    Down voted because the OP didn't ask about formal usage, they asked about colloquial usage. Context is important. See also: prescriptive vs descriptive grammar. – user3067860 Jul 9 at 16:41
3

My question is how natural does that sound to you?

It sounds perfectly natural to me. It sounds horribly wrong to my dad. This is a change in English grammar that has been in progress for a while, but is not yet 100% complete.

The issue is whether or not conjunctions are transparent to case assignment. If they are, then yeah, a personal pronouns occurring anywhere in a subject phrase should take nominative case, and "Me and Adam have discovered a lot of weird things" would be ungrammatical. But if they aren't, then pronouns in compound subject phrases cannot take case assigned by the verb, because it is intercepted by the conjunction (for which all case forms are identical), and must appear in their default form, which for modern English is the objective.

Neither option is inherently better or more logical than the other. In fact, perfectly standard French works in the second way--it is ungrammatical to say, e.g., "Adam et Je"; you must use "Adam et moi, nous" instead. And Russian does something completely different--you must say the structural equivalent of "We with Adam" (thus ensuring that the issue of conjunction transparency never arises). But different varieties of English have different choices for this particular grammatical switch.

Can we use that in some formal settings too?

Some formal settings? Yes. Like, say, speaking extemporaneously on a radio show. :) In a pre-prepared speech to the United Nations, it would be less appropriate.

Given that the "Adam and I discovered..." form is older, however, and therefore more conservative, you will never go wrong by choosing to use it. It's pretty much always acceptable (except, of course, in the sort of social situations where it will mark you as "stuffy" or "old fashioned"), whereas the form with blocked case assignment is still gaining acceptance. It'll probably be formally standard in another century or so.

| improve this answer | |
  • Excellent first post and detailed answer, welcome to EL&U. (From review). – Bitter dreggs. Jul 9 at 20:24

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