Friday, 16 March 2012

The great ME vs. MYSELF debate about Jane and her damn coffee



Even the Archbishop of Canterbury makes the odd grammatical mistake. In announcing his resignation this morning, Dr. Rowan Williams thanks his friends and family for their support:


I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane (Williams' wife) and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry (quoted in the Globe, 16 March 2012).

"Myself", of course, is an emphatic or reflexive pronoun, to be used with the first person subjective pronoun "I" in such sentences as "I myself will attend the meeting" or "I hurt myself". In the paragraph above, the verb "supported" requires the objective case of the first person pronoun, i.e., "me".

Dr. Williams should have alluded to "all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and me in these years".

Straightforward enough. But it reminded me of another example which turned out not to be quite so simple.

My son-in-law, Rob, a budding grammarian, had texted me with a question: Should he say,

I made coffee for Jane and myself or I made coffee for Jane and me?

(He's not quite as holy as the archbishop, but his wife, too, is called Jane.)

Without even thinking, I quickly replied that "Jane and myself" was incorrect, and that he should say,

I made coffee for Jane and me.

I referred him to posts I had made in this blog on August 2nd and 15th, 2011, and thought no more about it.

However, he wasn't convinced, and wisely decided to seek a second opinion. He asked another grammarian, a friend of his whom we'll call Tracy, for her thoughts. She decided to consult a couple of linguistics professors. They were only too happy to oblige. Grammarians love this kind of debate. 

Tracy summarised their thoughts as follows. 

Both statements are correct. In fact, two rules are in collision. On one hand, the subject "I" requires the reflexive pronoun "myself". On the other, the preposition "for" demands the objective case "me". In this case of conflicting rules, it comes down to what is more pleasing to the ear. And different ears have different sensitivities. One professor said that if the sentence were "I made coffee for my mother and me/myself" then she would choose "myself" because the sound combination was more pleasing. The other linguist would have chosen "me".

Other editors and grammarians have weighed in as well. Interestingly, the ruling is evenly divided. 

Now had Rob said,

Tom (or Dick or Harry) made coffee for Jane and myself.

then he would clearly have been wrong, despite being in the good company of the Archbishop of Canterbury. So I advised him to stick with "for Jane and me" because in the case under discussion it was certainly correct, and in any other case, he would be wrong to say anything else.

Thanks to Rob for the question, and to Tracy for her contribution and the title of this post.

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