Daily Archives: August 13, 2011

Me, Myself and I

These rhinos were not particularly interested in Sally and me. (Or is it "I"?)

We all find ourselves fascinating, but many of us don’t know how to choose the pronoun that identifies the subject of our best stories.  Is it “me”?  Is it “I”?

That depends on context, of course, and that’s when we get messed up.  We flash back to some English teacher, the one who took perverse pleasure in shoveling the rules of language onto us.  Unfortunately, all we remember is that there were rules, but we can’t remember what they were.  There was something about subjective case and objective case and gerunds — whatever the heck those are.

If all those rules make your face twitch when you try to remember them, you aren’t alone.  Plenty of intelligent people get tripped up:  “He sent Edwin and I a beautiful basket,” the lady says incorrectly.  (That was obviously a made-up snippet of conversation; no one is named Edwin anymore.)

Some people try to evade the trap of “I” or “me” by using “myself”, as in “The neighbor climbed a ladder to rescue the cats and myself.”  That’s wrong, and it’s the sort of usage that made your old English teacher menacingly slap the palm of her hand with a ruler.

So here’s a simple way to remember the correct personal pronoun.  Don’t think of this as a rule, think of it as a suggestion.  Or, if it makes you feel like you’re getting even with the teacher, think of it as cheating.  OK, what you do is this…

Say it silently to yourself, leaving out everyone but you.

For instance, if the lady mentioned above left out Edwin, she’d realize that it sounds wrong to say, “He sent I a beautiful basket.”  She doesn’t need to recall that “me” is correct because it is the objective case of the personal pronoun.  All she has to know is that if Edwin is temporarily left out of the story, “I” sounds weird.

Let’s consider another example:  “Dave, Tony, a couple of Sig Eps and me accidentally burned off our eyebrows.”  (This sentence was not taken from a standard English textbook.)  If the others are left out for a moment, it’s apparent that one would say, “I accidentally burned off my eyebrows, ” not “Me burned off,” etc.

You can use a version of that rule — I mean, suggestion — for plural pronouns, too.  If we consider the same group of guys, would they say, “Us boys like to make our own fireworks,” or “We boys like to make our own fireworks”?  Hint:  Leave out boys, and it’s clear that “we” is correct, since you wouldn’t say “Us like to make our own fireworks.”  In their specific case, it may not be worth learning correct usage since they probably won’t be around much longer.

One other thing to remember is that whether the correct pronoun is “I” or “me”, it belongs at the end of the list, not the beginning.  It should be “Christine and I held hands,” not “Me and Christine”.  Or, when the occasion arises, you should say, “The lifetime achievement award was presented to Bishop Tutu, Dane Cook and me.”

If you want, you can make up a few sample sentences and practice right there in the privacy of your own home.  Remember — leave out the others momentarily, and listen to how it sounds.

Me hope this little tip helps.