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Monday, November 5, 2012

Grammar Gripes: Numero Dos

What ever shall we do with me?  This one is the doozy of our age, not because the others aren’t just as rampant, but because I think it poses the greatest danger to the integrity of English.  And the fact is, it’s not all that difficult.

Here’s what happens.  We don’t drill grammar in U.S. schools, so we emerge unsure about the basic roles of, say, I and me.  But since, as kids, we were all chastised for misusing me, we err on the side of the smarter-sounding I.  This is the psychology behind the problem.  But if we use I incorrectly, we don’t really sound any smarter, so the gamble doesn’t pay off.

Instead, it can just be really annoying.  Examples:

Annoying: Want to come to the store with Jim and I?
Correct: Want to come with Jim and me?

Annoying:  The kids don’t listen to Mike and I.
Correct:  The kids don’t listen to Mike and me.

Annoying: This is an article by Ms. Sommers and I.
Correct: This is an article by me. (Ms. Sommers won’t collaborate with grammar dunces.)

Also annoying, I’ve watched three different shows and movies in the last few weeks in which characters (educated ones, like lawyers) use I as an object pronoun.  This galls me, because it implies that among all the people on a big Disney movie set, not one picked up on this really basic error.  It should have been writers and editors, but really?  Nobody?

But let’s not panic.  We can fix it!  My first plan was just to point it out publicly, but I hear that’s rude, so instead, here’s the grade-school trick that still works, every time.

Subject/Object error usually arises when there are multiple objects.  So take out the other person.

For instance: The dog relies on Jack and _________.

Now take out Jack and see what sounds better.

The dog relies on I?  Sounds silly.  The dog relies on me, of course.  And, therefore, when Jack helps out, the dog relies on Jack and me.

Simple, yes?  Even if you are stuck in an I-overuse rut, you actually do know your objects from subjects, so long as you take out the confusing third party.  Subjects, like I, do the action.  Objects, like me, receive the action or follow prepositions like with and to.

Now go on.  Kick Jack out of the equation.  You can do it.