All Pronoun Cases Are Created Equal

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Some writers and speakers seem to believe that “I” is somehow more high class than “me.” Snooty characters on soap operas are especially fond of this construction. The fact is, “I” and “me” are class neutral. They simply have different jobs to do.

Pronouns have two grammatical “cases” that still matter in English: subject and object (aka nominative and accusative). The subject forms of the personal pronouns are: I, you he, she, it, we, you, and they. (There’s another use, but that’s for another post.)

Here are subject pronouns used as subjects of verbs:
I live in Arkansas. He lives in Brazil. She flies a Cessna. It is sleeping in its basket.
We play hockey. You are the winner. They hate snow.

The object forms of the personal pronouns are: me, him, her, it, us, you, and them. These forms are used as the objects of transitive verbs and as the objects of prepositions.

Here are examples of object pronouns used as the objects of transitive verbs:
No one told me. The ball hit him. Do you believe her? Put it on the table.
Visit us soon. I see you. We see them.

Here are examples of object pronouns used as the objects of prepositions:
Give it to me. Who’s that behind him? Go sit beside her. The book is under it. Do come with us. The Force is within you. We like everyone except them.

I used to think that people avoided using “me” because they’d been corrected so often as children for saying things like “Me and him went to the movies.” Now I’m not so sure. I’ve recently heard talk show guests say things like “Me and my friends gave a benefit” and in the next breath say something like “They invited Sally and I.”

Related to pronoun usage is the order in which pronouns are placed in a phrase. Traditionally, when mentioning oneself and others, the rule has been to place “I” or “me” in the final position: “My friends and I gave a benefit performance.” “Save a seat for Jerry, Sally, and me.”

More and more I notice people placing themselves first. Perhaps this tendency accounts for “Me” being used as a subject. After all, ours is a “me first” culture. Once I corrected an eighth-grader on this point. He looked at me in utter astonishment and asked “Why would I want to put myself last?”

Whatever order you put your pronouns in, remember to use the correct case.

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5 thoughts on “All Pronoun Cases Are Created Equal”

  1. I had this drilled into me in fourth grade. My teacher would not acknowledge our question until we phrased it correctly. He also did this with “can” and “may”. For instance, if I asked him,
    “Can me and Suzie go to the library?” He would just raise his eyebrow until we tried again, “May Suzie and I go to the library?”

    The way he taught us in the first place is to pretend the second person isn’t in the sentence, how does it sound with the me or I?

    You wouldn’t say, “Me gave a benefit” or “They invited I”, so you shouldn’t say “Me and my friends gave a benefit” or “They invited Sally and I.”

  2. Those were the good old days, Stacy.

    Towards the end of my high school teaching career in the 1990’s, I corrected a student on just such a matter. She whirled on me and said “I don’t talk that way!:

  3. @Stacy

    “The way he taught us in the first place is to pretend the second person isn’t in the sentence, how does it sound with the me or I?”

    Thank you, that’s a great tip. Will use it from now on when I’m not sure which version to use.


  4. Maybe this is only an as-second-language thing, but I think a trickier case is this:

    “You’re smarter than me”, “You’re smarter than I am” or “You’re smarter than I”. I always thought “You’re smarter than me” is wrong, so I said “You’re smarter than I”. My kid, who grew up in this country, immediately corrected “You’re smarter than me”. Is she right?

  5. Your child’s usage, “smarter than me,” is colloquial English. In this construction “than” is being used as a preposition.

    Your preference (and mine) recognizes “than” as a conjunction introducing a clause that is understood but not expressed: “You are smarter than I (am).”

    English has many such elliptical (something missing) idioms.

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