Monday, 15 August 2011

Pronouns: I or me, the genteel error

Recently at a writing workshop, I corrected a sentence in a participant's business letter. She had written: Please call Barry or I. I changed it to Please call Barry or me

"No," she said, "It's Please call Barry or I. That's what I was taught."

"Well," I said, "would you say, Please call I"?

"No," she admitted.

This is a very common error. Even some of my friends and family have made this genteel pronoun error in such statements such as Keep a couple of tickets for Wayne and I or Come to dinner with Jenny and I or This is a gift from Murray and I.

In all these cases, "me" is the correct pronoun, as the ear will confirm if we leave out the other person so that the pronoun is next to the verb or the preposition. Keep a ticket for (Wayne and) me or Come to dinner with (Jenny and) me or This is a gift from (Murray and) me.

"I" is the nominative (subjective) and "me" the accusative (objective) case of the pronoun. The latter is required after a verb (the direct object) or a preposition (the indirect object). Please call me, come with me, etc. 

I suspect that the myth has somehow arisen that "me" is incorrect, impolite, uneducated, and in the old sense of the word, common. Teachers strived to prevent their pupils from saying, Me and Tom will go, Miss, and perhaps the pupils learned not wisely but too well that "me" was wrong, and inferred that it was always to be avoided if possible. The extreme case of this is seen in Barry Humphrey's comic character, the social climbing Edna Everedge, who would shriek in a piercing falsetto voice, "Excuse I." 

Update, August 18, 1011.

And from Adrian Chamberlain's column in my favourite provincial newspaper, Victoria's Times Colonist:

She also browbeat my daughter and I into attending a children's performance of the musical Grease.

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