English grammar, or any language’s grammar for that matter, can get complicated quickly—there are seemingly endless rules and exceptions to those rules…and who wants to memorize all that stuff, anyway?
Typically, we were taught to memorize grammar and punctuation rules along with loads of other information in elementary school while our minds were still young (and supposedly malleable). As we progressed in our studies, we learned, sometimes the hard way, that memorization was not learning, and the best way to actually learn a given topic is to understand the “why” behind the rules. Memorizing facts and rules without a context to help us understand the reasoning behind them is almost guaranteed to ensure we quickly loose interest and forget what it is we were supposed to “learn”.
For example, many people routinely mix up the use of “I” and “me”—both singular pronouns. (Memory jog: pronouns are words that take the place of nouns, usually proper nouns, like a name). My theory for the frequent mistakes using “I” and me” is that “I” sounds more formal and therefore people may think that if it sounds more formal, it must be correct grammar. Unfortunately, just the opposite is usually true for the proper use of these two pronouns.
The bottom line: “I” is only used as the subject of a sentence, and “me” is only used as an object of a sentence. But there are three types of objects: direct object, indirect object or object of a preposition. Since there are three kinds of “objects” and only one “subject”, the less formal sounding pronoun,“me”, will more frequently be the correct pronoun choice. (“I” can also be used as a “predicate nominative”, but…we’ll pass on that today!)
Let’s look at some (really) basic examples:
—I went to the store. “I” is used properly here because “I” is the subject of the sentence. Obviously, you would not say, “Me went to the store.”
—Shawn and I went to the store. Again, “I” is properly used because it’s part of the double subject of this sentence, “Shawn and I”. But you do hear this a lot: Shawn and me went to the store.
__ Shawn threw the ball to me. In this sentence, “Shawn” is the subject, “ball” is the direct object, and “me” is the indirect object. This example is pretty easy because “me” just sounds better in this sentence.
But what about this one: Shawn threw the ball in the general direction of Tom and me. Yes, “me” is the correct pronoun choice in this sentence because “me” serves as part of the indirect object in the phrase: “of Tom and me”. The correct pronoun in this sentence could never be “I” because it’s not part of the subject of the sentence.
__ At the store, Shawn bought a special treat for my husband and me. Do you see why “me” is the correct pronoun choice here, and not “I”? The preposition “for” is followed by a noun and a pronoun. The noun and the pronoun are the objects of the preposition “for”, not the subject of the sentence. In this sentence, the pronoun “me” is properly used as the object of the preposition “for”.
And here’s one more example of the improper use of “I” and “Me” that I hear all the time: Let’s keep this information just between you and me, okay? So many folks say between you and I, but “between” is a preposition and the two pronouns that follow that preposition are its “objects”. So once again, the correct pronoun is, you guessed it, “me”.
Have you run screaming from the room yet, making a beeline for your anti-anxiety drugs? I hope not! Let me know if this information is helpful, and if you’d like to see other posts on specific grammar topics. If you have additional questions about the use of “I” and “Me”, just ask in the comment area below and I’ll answer as soon as I can.
For more online information on grammar, check out GrammarGirl.com, or get your very own comprehensive writing manual. There are many good ones available, but my favorite is “Rules for Writers” by Diana Hacker.