Gentle suspense. Tortured heroes. Mischievous heroines.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I vs. Me

I vs. Me

Some personal pronouns have two forms, one that is used as the subject of a verb and one that is used as the object of a verb or preposition.
Subject forms: I, he, she, we, they
My sister and I live in Texas. Weraise chickens. (subject forms)
Jack and she moved to Paris.They love it there. (subject forms)
Object forms: me, him, her, us, them
Mary gave me your address. (indirect object of a verb)
The neighbors invited my wife and me to dinner. (object of a verb)
We met him at the movies. We met her there too. We like them. (objects of a verbs)
Jack writes to him every day. We went with them. (objects of prepositions)
Presumably, these distinctions are taught to children in school. Supposedly, teachers and other school personnel model this usage to the students. Yet this is what we hear all around us:
“Me and my friends went to Miami.”
“The Governor invited my wife and I to dinner.”
Those of us who know and care that I is a subject word and me is an object word react to such usage with feelings–if not cries–of outrage, but they continue.
Actors portraying psychologists, FBI agents, and medical examiners declare,
“Me and my colleagues interviewed the suspect.”
“Him and his girlfriend were seen on the balcony.”
“Make a reservation for Megan and I.”
Don’t the actors know better even if the scriptwriters are semi-literate?
The answer may well be that both actors and scriptwriters “know better,” but don’t care. They may desire to speak in a nonstandard way to show their freedom from what they regard as stuffy rule-following convention.
On the other hand, they may not “know better.” They may genuinely believe that it’s correct to use Me as a subject and I as an object in a compound, even though they would never use them that way when the subject or object is not a compound.
With grammatical constructions–as with Big Lies–if we hear them often enough, they will eventually “sound right.”
Language changes inexorably from generation to generation. Pronouns alter more slowly than any other part of speech, but they do change.
English once had three pronoun numbers: singular, dual, and plural. We lost the dual form early on. The singular second person pronoun thou and its formstheethy and thine dropped out of popular speech in the 16th century. (The Quakers retained some of the usage.)
The second person plural went through some changes before settling on youfor both singular and plural. Before you won as the all-purpose second person pronoun, ye was the subject form and you was the object form. The distinction was still being observed in the AV translation of the Bible, but in popular speech, ye and you were becoming muddled:
No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. –1611 translation of Job 12:2
A southwest wind blow on ye And blister you all over! –Shakespeare’s The Tempest, c.1611.
As painful as the thought is to those of us who care, the mix-up of me and Iin compound subjects and objects may become the norm.
What do you think? Is there any way to reverse the trend?

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