Pronoun Mistakes #1: TV Characters

By Maeve Maddox

When it comes to nonstandard grammar in the mouths of television characters, I expect the professionals–like FBI agents, medical examiners, and college professors–to model standard English. When they don’t, I always wonder if the scriptwriter or the actor is at fault.

Here are some examples from my recent viewing:

Incorrect: You and me are going to [do something about this].
Correct : You and I are going to [do something about this].

This line is spoken by a school counselor played by Whoopie Goldberg in an episode of the television comedy series The Middle.

Me is an object form. “You and I” is the subject of the verb are.

Incorrect: That’ll buy Castle and I enough time to [do something].
Correct : That’ll buy Castle and me enough time to [do something].

This line is spoken by Detective Kate Beckett in the crime series Castle. The character Beckett attended law school for a time before entering the NY police academy.

In this example, the pronoun is the indirect object of the verb buy: “buy [for] Castle and me.” The object form me is called for.

Incorrect: Can I speak to whomever’s in charge?
Correct : Can I speak to whoever’s in charge?

This line is spoken by Detective Foyle in Foyle’s War, a British series that begins during World War II and continues into the 1950s. I don’t know what kind of education was required of a police detective at that time, but I don’t like to hear Mr. Foyle make grammatical mistakes; he’s one of my favorite characters and, besides, he’s English!

Even though the object form whom is falling out of general use, when a who word follows a preposition, a speaker’s instinct is to reach for the object form, as in the familiar title For whom the Bell Tolls and the formulaic phrase, “To whom it may concern.”

In this example, the who pronoun stands immediately after the preposition to, but it is not the object of to. The object of the preposition is an entire clause: “whoever is in charge.” Whoever is the subject of the clause.

Incorrect: Me and my colleagues are going to try (to do something].
Correct : My colleagues and I are going to try (to do something].

This line is spoken by California Bureau of Investigation consultant Patrick Jane in an episode of The Mentalist.

The pronoun is part of the plural subject of the verb “are going.” The subject form I is called for. The polite convention is to put other people mentioned in the subject before the speaker: “My colleagues and I.”

It’s possible that an occasional grammatical slip is in keeping with this character’s lack of formal education. According to the backstory, Jane is self-taught, the son of a carnival con artist. On the other hand, he has learned to present himself as an educated person. A little later in the same episode, he does use pronouns correctly: “You and she were good friends.”

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9 Responses to “Pronoun Mistakes #1: TV Characters”

  • Ulla-Brita Carlsen

    This can be explained easily in the following manner, which even the most obdurate grammar-villain will comprehend:
    Be selfish! – take away the other person and think only of yourself. You would never say ‘That cake is for I’, so don’t say ‘That cake is for you and I’.

  • AinOakPark

    Dialogue is a tricky thing. Perhaps writers want their characters to appeal to viewers by making the characters seem more approachable and likeable. One way to do this is to have the characters speak with common mistakes.

    So it seems to me that the error is in the writer who doesn’t understand the character, or who doesn’t value the character over the viewer.

    I learn a lot through this website, but I get anxious when I comment here. May we have a spell check button? A grammar check button would send me over the moon.

  • Danny

    Great post!

    The knee-jerk use of “XXXX and I” instead of “XXXX and me” drives me over the moon. There’s a very funny exchange on that subject in “Marry the Man Today” from Guys and Dolls. I grin and bear is when the grammatical error is used in song lyrics to force a rhyme, but in regular speech –ARGH!

    Detective Foyle is fabulous. And I personally find who/whom and whoever/whomever VERY tricky.

    Patrick Jane is tricky enough to use poor grammar to achieve some effect. Perhaps “Me and my colleagues” was meant to reduce suspicion in the person he was speaking to (er, “to whom he was speaking”?).

  • Nancy R.

    Oh, Maeve, I hear these errors so often, I’ve given up making a note of them. Television writers putting bad grammar into the mouths of respectable, intelligent, educated characters is reprehensible. Usage such as “Me and my brother…” and “Give it to Paul and myself…” are causing the young and the ESL students to think what they hear on TV is correct.
    AinOakPark, the sloppy grammar doesn’t make me like the characters; it makes me think “Why are the writers making you talk like this?” It’s distracting, and there’s is no reason for it. Yes, street characters and hillbillies require more “colorful” language. But I wish the writers would see what a service they could do by giving most of characters standard, grammatical English. Perhaps the writers don’t know any better?

  • Peter Buxton

    Forgive me if I’ve already posted this, but my favourite pronoun mistake comes in a song written by Paul McCartney: ‘Nobody I know could love you more than me’. Narcissism at its finest.

  • Nancy R.

    Ha ha! Good one, Peter! What is the name of the song?

  • AnWulf

    @Peter … Saying ‘than me’ is not a grammar mistake. In this case, ‘than’ is a preposition and not a conjunction. See http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/than

    As for TV characters, what role are the playing? I wouldn’t expect to see someone playing a learnd fellow to say “he don’t” but someone from the streets would more likely say it.

    BTW, even Shakespeare wrote lines in the vernacular.

  • Nemo

    I hear ya. I can mostly forgive it in casual speech because we talk for our audience. Rhythm and tone matter more than grammatical correctness. It’s when it’s in a professional situation that it bugs me.

    What I HATE is when a character that should know better misrepresents a classic book. Like when they go on and on about Jane Austen writing romance novels or use Frankenstein to pull off some grotesque metaphor that has nothing to do with the book. Or when this or that character claims that they love these particular books, but it’s very obvious the writer just looked up “classic books that will make my character look smart.”

  • PreciseEdit

    @AnWulf
    Peter is correct. The use of “me” is not a grammar error, but it is a mistake of usage.

    By using “me,” the expression “more than me” becomes an elliptical expression for “more than they love me.” The entire line, therefore, means “Nobody I know could love you more than they love me.”

    The correct line, according to the context of the song, should have been “Nobody I know could love you more than I,” as in “more than I do.”

    By using the wrong pronoun, the singer changed a message intended to be romantic into one that is, as Peter noted, a bit narcissistic.

    Let’s hope that the recipient of the song doesn’t understand grammar. Otherwise, the singer may get an undesirable and unexpected response.

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