Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The I's Have It

If there is one word that is more misused than any other these days, it may be the simple and serviceable “I.” When we talk about ourselves, we have a choice—we can say “I,” “me,” “myself.” That’s it. Choose A, B or C. There has always been a certain amount of confusion, but now so many of us get tangled up in that simple choice. We’re okay as long as the spotlight is on us alone. The problem crops up, ironically, when we try to expand our viewpoint to include others.

When I was a child, I always said, “Me and Janie went swimming.” Ungrammatical, but, also, unpretentious. Teachers and parents impressed on me that others must come first, at least in sentence structure. So I changed to “Janie and me went swimming.” Of course, I would never have said “Me went swimming,” and moving the pronoun closer to the verb made it clear that “me” wasn’t the right choice. So, eventually I became more civilized and arrived at the grammatical “Janie and I went to the mall.” (I had quit hanging out at the pool by that time.)

Unfortunately that sophisticated “I” has migrated to the rougher neighborhood once the turf of the earthier “me.” It seems that so many of us who used to misuse “me” have decided that it is a forbidden word that must never soil our lips. This speech disorder has reached epidemic proportions. “They went to the theater with John and I” may sound more elegant to the grammatically confused, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong. To go all English teacher (which I’m not; I just play one on the Web) about it, “me” is the right word for the objective case; “I” is the right word for the nominative case.

Rule of thumb: changing “John and I” to “we” or “us” will tell you which case you want. If “we” is the answer, then say “John and I.” If “us” sounds right, choose “me.” That is, until we (us?) screw that up, as well.


  1. The one that irks me most is the misuse of "myself," brought on, I suspect, by that same fear of using "me." I don't know how many times I've been told, "Send your report to myself by the end of the week." AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

  2. That bugs me, too. Why the irrational fear of "me"?