Sometimes, no matter how one pours their heart out, if you flub your grammar, that’s all someone is going to remember. This was the case when I wrote this post about how to decide when you’re done having children, in which I shared my own experiences as a mother of one child, a former foster parent, and a woman who has had two miscarriages.
A man (let’s call him Daniel, because that’s his name), read that post and wrote me to say:
I just stumbled over “a question that loomed over my husband and I” and had to cringe.
Please, for the sake of your readers, make a difference between “I” and “me” – in this case, you meant to write “over my husband and me”, meaning the question loomed over your husband and over you at the same time. If you really need to write “over my husband and I”, then try adding “easily helped him get over it with a fresh pot of coffee”. In that case you would be the subject of that new clause and not dependent on some “over”, “under” or “about”, all of which require the word “me”.
It must be somewhere in Strunk & White, but I don’t have that here with me right now.
Otherwise, I really enjoy your articles!
It was hard for me to read this email with all those commas and periods outside of the quotation marks, but I powered through and considered his point. To start, I had to find it somewhat amusing that “a fresh pot of coffee” might have easily helped my husband come to some kind of conclusion about our not-so-growing family. (This was a thing we did not try, and it’s hard to not feel regret about that now.) But secondly, Daniel was right — and as someone who frequently writes posts about grammar, it’s only fair to have my own grammatical inadequacies corrected.
(Plus, he did say he enjoys my articles, which endeared him to me. Thank you Daniel; I pledge to do better.)
The simple rule I have always used for this — and for whatever reason did not apply in this case — is that “…and I” is correct wherever you’d just use “I,” and “…and me” is correct wherever you’d just use “me.” That’s because “I” is a subject pronoun (the thing doing the action in a sentence) and “me” is an object pronoun (the thing the action happens to), and they’re used as such whether they stand alone or are part of phrase.
So we should say, “Can you save a spot for my friends and me,” not “my friends and I,” because me and my friends are the object of that sentence. And we’d say, “You and I are going to be late,” because you and I are the subject.
Then why do some of us still slip up now and then? Why is it that sometimes the grammatically incorrect phrase, such as “between you and I,” actually sounds more right than its grammatically correct version, “between you and me”? Here’s what linguist James Harbeck writes for The Week:
If it’s so simple, why do so many people have so much trouble getting it right? These same people would never say, “Take a picture of I” or “Give it to I.” They have an automatic understanding of the rules of English subject and object forms… except in compound noun phrases.
This isn’t evidence of the woeful state of English language education. People, often quite literate people, have been doing this for centuries. More than 400 years ago, Shakespeare had a character in The Merchant of Venice say, “All debts are cleared between you and I.” His contemporary Ben Jonson wrote the line, “Musco has been with my cousin and I all this day” in Every Man in His Humour. Examples between then and now abound. The obvious fact is that the simple rule is not automatic, even if you grew up speaking English. It has to be learned, and not everyone learns it.
So now we’ve learned it.