There is an aberration in the grammar of English-speaking Americans that I’ve noticed over the past couple decades, and it’s something that really annoys me. This is not just a grammar pet peeve from a perfectionist, because it’s not just a simple mistake people are making. What annoys me to no end is that people are making a conscious effort to go against their instincts and do the wrong thing.
I’m talking about mistakenly using “I” in place of “me”. That’s right. I actually am not talking about mistakenly using “me” in place of “I”.
Here is an example. Suppose someone has a friend named “Mike”. I’ve noticed that often people will state incorrectly that “someone gave something to Mike and I” or “someone told Mike and I”. In both cases, the person’s natural instinct is to say “Mike and me”, but what he/she remembers is that a long time ago, as a child in elementary school, often when he/she would use the word “me” near the word “and”, a teacher would correct him/her to use “I” instead. So, now he/she forces him/herself to use “I”, even when “me” was the correct choice.
What the person failed to realize is that there is actually nothing wrong with the word “me” (and nothing special about the word “and” in relation to it.) “Me” is just another word in the English language. It’s not slang. It’s not a curse word. “Me” and “I” are both valid, just in different situations. Sometimes “me” is right, and sometimes “I” is right, but the person never picked up on the subtlety of this point, and so he/she developed a superstitious belief that “me” was wrong more often than it really is.
Here is the rule, for anyone who is curious.
The correct use of “I” is before most actions and after certain actions. “I” can go before actions like “gave” or “told” or after actions like “was”. Think “I gave”, “I told”, or “it was I”. Think “Mike and I gave”, “Mike and I told”, or “it was Mike and I”. The addition of the word “and” makes no difference.
“I” should not go after actions like “gave” or “told” or after words like “to” or “about”. Think “Joe gave I”, “Joe told I”, “Joe gave something to I”, or “Joe told her about I”, which are all wrong. Think “Joe gave Mike and I”, “Joe told Mike and I”, “Joe gave something to Mike and I”, or “Joe told her about Mike and I”, which are also all wrong. Once again, the use of “and” makes no difference.
On the other hand, this is where the correct use of “me” can be found. “Me” is what should go after actions like “gave” or “told” or after words like “to” or “about”. Think “Joe gave me”, “Joe told me”, “Joe gave something to me”, or “Joe told her about me”. Think “Joe gave Mike and me”, “Joe told Mike and me”, “Joe gave something to Mike and me”, or “Joe told her about Mike and me”. Yes, these are all correct. As in the other examples, the word “and” is irrelevant.
The easy way to remember is to try using “me” or “I” by itself. If it sounds right, then add “Mike” or whomever, and you’re good.
Of course, grammar is not the real issue here. What both frustrates and frightens me about the human race is how easily people learn the wrong rules and then repeat them over and over. These careless misinterpretations are how religions get started. They’re how wars get started. They’re how buggy, poorly performing software gets produced. People think they’ve learned some rules, but they’ve learned them wrong, and then they stop thinking, turn their minds off, and continue making the same mistakes over and over again.
Life is a journey. Lazy, blind obedience is not the answer. When a person in a position of authority makes a statement, it should always be subject to scrutiny. Even if it turns out to be a correct statement, asking deeper questions is the only way to find the truly right answer.