TV’s War on “Me” and “I”

By Maeve Maddox

Television scriptwriters — or perhaps actors who are failing to read what has been written for them–seem to be determined to reverse the functions of the pronouns “I” and “me” in American speech.

I is the subject form of the first person personal pronoun. It stands for the person speaking. This subject form is used as the subject of a sentence:
I am attending a conference in Chicago this week.
Charles and I are attending the conference together.

NOTE: The courteous way to construct a compound subject in which I is one of the subject words is to place the other person first: Charles and I are attending. He and I are attending.

Purists may insist on “It is I,” but in conversation, most Americans say “It’s me.” It’s safe to say, therefore, that the ONLY time to use the pronoun I is as the subject of a sentence.

Me is the object form of the first person personal pronoun. It is the receiver of an action or the object of a preposition. It is NEVER the subject of a verb. Examples:

Direct object:
Please invite me.
Please invite Tommy and me.

Indirect object:
Give me the book.
Give James and me the book.

Object of preposition:
Dad’s riding with me. (object of “with”)
The children live with Sally and me.

In writing fiction I know enough not to put the same grammar or vocabulary in the mouths of a child, a garage mechanic, an ESL learner, and a college professor.

On the other hand, unless there’s something about the character’s personality to make him deliberately flaunt the rules of standard English, I would have a native English speaker who has completed at least eight years of formal education use the pronouns I and me correctly.

I might put the construction “Me and him went to the movies” into the mouth of a privately-educated teenager who wanted to make his parents cringe, but I wouldn’t give the line to an assistant district attorney–unless I meant for the reader to question her credibility.

See what you think of these gleanings from Prime Time:

Law and Order
“Him and Eric had words at the Baby Doll” —a young bank executive
“Did he ever confide in you what him and Kate have been going through?” —Detective Green
“Callng on Wong and I to attend” –Alexandra Borgia, Assistant District Attorney

Cold Case Files
“Vic and him stopped talking as soon as she moved out.” —a fireman

Without A Trace
“I was looking for a recent photo of Jimmy and I” —affluent, apparently educated girlfriend of a missing person
“Did he ever talk about a grudge between he and some of the guys?” —Jack Malone, senior FBI agent

“I made a reservation for Megan and I at an Ethiopian restaurant.” —Larry Fleinhardt, PhD

40 Responses to “TV’s War on “Me” and “I””

  • Mara W.

    Alek Davis, thats a good rule, but the “Me and….” construction is incorrect. Always start with the other person:
    “That happened to Sam and me one time.”
    “Sam and I went to the movies last night.”
    And so on.

  • Mike

    Why do pronouns still have objective and subjective cases? No other nouns have them. If we want language to be “correct” all the time, we need to remove “me”, “us”, and “him” from the language.

  • Ray Lance

    Different from is fine. What is wrong about different than?

    The recent one that bothers me is different to. What’s the logic behind that?

    But, much as I would prefer unchanging correct grammar rules, language has always evolved. The ones that don’t are not spoken anymore (dead languages).

  • Doug

    A previous poster in this thread wrote “We say me too because that’s what is said by everyone. What everyone says is correct. That’s the way language works.”

    By this logic, then, “me and him should of went to the movies” should be considered correct? Most assuredly, that abomination flies regularly out of the mouths of a majority of under-25 people with whom I’m acquainted. But the notion that such endemic (mis) usage somehow makes garbage-speak like that “correct” just boggles the mind.

    Are we to change all of our textbooks from “he and I [verb]” to “me and him [verb]” and “should have gone” to “should of went” just because the number of ignoramuses who can’t be bothered to learn their native language exceeds the number who do learn more or less correct English?

    I’m sorry, but I have serious issues with the anarchistic “anything people say is correct” approach to language. It seems to me more on the order of a lame excuse for linguistic ignorance and/or laziness.

    Language without rules is just noise; unintelligible babble. The job of dictionaries and other linguistic authorities should be twofold: to document current usage AND to cite the correct forms when they differ from current usage.

    Just documenting current usage and calling it “correct” is a cop-out and a disservice to us all.

    *climbs down off of soap box and wanders aimlessly away, muttering vague imprecations to self and wiping spittle from mustache*


  • S.Blankstein

    Somehow I missed this nice article! Loved the “PhD” (last) example. The new president of Ukraine (Yanukovitch) is known to his constituency as “proFFessor”: This is how he spelled his occupation in the election campaign forms.

  • ekw

    I have noticed that many people use the incorrect “I”, and I think that in some cases it’s done in order to sound educated. They don’t know why there is a difference between the two, they have no idea that there is a grammar rule about subject and object, they just think that “I” sounds classier (a word that I love to hate but here it is apt), more “upscale” (how much do you hate *that* word?). I, also, tell people to eliminate the “and” and then listen to what it sounds like. I tell them, if you would use the word “we” then use the word “I”; if you would use the word, “us”, then use the word “me”. The same goes for they and them. And I also hate “different than”, I can’t stand the sound of it or the sight of it. “Different from” calms me down.

  • Garry Lee

    We say me too because that’s what is said by everyone. What everyone says is correct. That’s the way language works.
    e.g. There are is rapidly disappearing on this side of the Atlantic (Europe) in the last years.
    There’s numerous reasons etc. is suddenly appearing. It will become the norm if this trend persisits.
    20 years ago. How are you? I’m well.. was the norm. Now it’s “I’m good”

  • Chris

    Can anyone tell me why we say ‘me too’ and not ‘I too’?

  • Erin

    The title of the last episode of Desperate Housewives is, ‘Me and My Town.’ Are they serious? This has become so ingrained in our society, the news paper regularly disregards this horrible linguistic error, as do news anchors, radio hosts on NPR, PRI, etc.. It used to bother me so much I couldn’t stand it. People do it so often now, I have given up hope they will ever stop.

  • sally

    I think Cheryl and I agree, although I believe that newscasters, professional speakers, etc should be held to a far higher standard than those on television shows designed purely for entertainment.

    My pet peeve for TV professionals (news, etc) is still the same: “There’s a lot of people out there…” If they thought for just a second they’d (hopefully) realize that the contraction should be’ there ARE’, not ‘there IS’.

    Another peeve is the improper use of ‘yourself’, as in this reply: “I’m fine. How’s yourself?”


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