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Objective Truth

September 29, 2006

I may not be the first person to point this out to you, but something you do drives me up the wall. I’m talking to English speakers, maybe just American English speakers. And not all of you, only the 95% who give the rest a bad name.

(This posting may be a bit off topic; it is not about the Bible, theology, or Christianity. However, the brutal truth is that the main subject I blog on are my personal pet peeves, and this one qualifies handily.)

I am talking about rampant solecism of epidemic proportions: phrases like “between you and I”* (NB: by linguistic convention nonstandard forms are tagged with an asterisk (*).) Of course, it should be “between you and me.” The first person personal pronoun “I” is used mostly as a grammatical subject; it is labelled the subjective form. “Me” is generally used as a grammatical object, and represents the objective form. Of course, the situation is more complicated than this, but the problem I am talking about is really not complicated at all. To illustrate, take the following quiz:

Choose the appropriate form:
1. Jesus loves [I/me].
2. They gave [I/me] the book.
3. He went with [I/me].

No one will have any trouble in answering each example with “me.” However, there is a pesky little critter known as “and I,” which makes his presence known where he has no business being. So when the personal pronoun is part of a compound object, the language sense of many people seems to go out the window. Take the following modified quiz to see what I mean.

Choose the appropriate form:
1. Jesus loves you and [I/me].
2. They gave Bob and [I/me] the book.
3. He went with John and [I/me].

The answers are, of course, all “me,” just as in the first version of the quiz. If you had any tendency to choose “I” here instead of “me,” that just shows how pervasive that nasty little “and I” has become. So how did it get this way?

Well, in my case, when I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember being corrected for saying things like “Billy and me want to go to the park.”* So I learned that “Billy and me” was wrong, and “Billy and I” is right. Later, however, I was astonished to be corrected for using it in a sentence like “They told Billy and I.”* My error was known as “hypercorrection,” and I rather think this is what has happened to nearly everyone else as well.

To be fair to English speakers, the grammatical category we are talking about is known as “case.” We hardly have to be bothered by considering case in English. In a language like Latin, you have nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, ablative, and vocative cases, and these are marked on virtually every noun, adjective and pronoun. English has not really used such categories for nearly 1000 years, except the residual distinctions found among the pronouns. So when we get past the most straightforward situations, modern English speakers tend to have trouble. The who/whom distinction has almost disappeared for most speakers. “It’s me” has essentially become an acceptable form, despite the fact that following the verb to be there should be a predicate nominative, i.e. the subjective form “I.” I think that for most people use of “It’s I” seems particularly stilted and artificial. “Me” appears to have taken on the quality of a disjunctive form, a la the French “C’est moi.” This strikes me as a perfectly reasonable grammatical rule.

So now that I have explained the situation to you, I don’t expect to hear this grammatical error again, at least among the two or three people who will see this post. Ain’t you glad I learned you to talk good?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 4, 2006 12:34 pm

    Me and my brother are always accused of this. Sorry… couldnt resist. ;^) Enjoyed the posts.

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