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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pet Peeve: Between You and I

There are some peeves, gentle readers, that seem pickier than others. No one cares, you might say, about anymore vs. any more, nor does anyone give a rat's posterior about hyphens. (I do, and you should too, but I take your point.) On this particular peeve, however, I yield no ground, because this is just wrong. It's not stylistic, there's no poetic license, it's not a maybe-yes, maybe-no kind of rule.

It's just a rule. And when you violate it, you're wrong.

Sorry to be blunt. Here's the scoop:

It was drilled into our preteen heads from Day One (or Day One of grade school) that when speaking of oneself and another person, one must use I, not me, as in:

Jeeves and I went on a fishing trip.
Jeeves and I had tea at four o'clock. (Or rather, I had tea, which Jeeves served.)

and so on. Only the laughably ungrammatical among us would say:

Jeeves and me hopped a train to Aunt Dahlia's house.

But here's the catch--the footnote to the main memo, you might say--that so many of us have overlooked. This rule only applies when the I in question is the subject of the sentence. You'd never say:

Me hopped a train to Aunt Dahlia's house.

So, no matter how many folks hop that train, I is always I, and never me:

Barmy, Bingo, Stinker, Jeeves, and I hopped a train to Aunt Dahlia's house.

But again I say: This rule only applies when the I in question is the subject of the sentence. Would you ever say:

Aunt Dahlia has been spreading vicious rumors about I.

Of course not. Nor would you say:

Aunt Dahlia had a particularly onerous problem for I to solve.

Instead, you'd say:

Aunt Dahlia has been spreading vicious rumors about me.
Aunt Dahlia had a particularly onerous problem for me to solve.
That being understood, it doesn't matter how many people Auntie D has been spreading rumors about, nor how many heads she needs to solve her problem. Me is always me.

Aunt Dahlia had a particularly onerous problem for Jeeves and me to solve.
Aunt Dahlia has been spreading vicious rumors about Jeeves, Barmy, Bingo, Stinker, and me.

Aha! you say. But it's still between you and I, isn't it?

No, it isn't. Between, gentle readers, is a preposition, like about, upon, of, beneath, etc. Prepositions take object pronouns. If you don't know what those are, don't fret. Take my word for it: Me is one of them. (Here's a list of common English prepositions, if you're interested.)

"That task is beneath me, Aunt Dahlia," said Bertie. (Beneath I? Never!)

And so:

"That task is beneath Jeeves and me, Aunt Dahlia," said Bertie. 
And yes, now we come to it:
"Dash it, Jeeves, but between you and me, I think Aunt Dahlia has too much time on her hands," said Bertie. 
And so it is with all prepositional phrases:
  • between you and me
  • for you and me
  • about you and me
  • of you and me
and so on.

Here's the takeaway, and a foolproof rule: When wondering if you should use I or me, ask yourself what you would use if the sentence didn't involve a lot of other people, and go with that.

Here's a picture of Jeeves and me out on our pleasure cruise.
Here's a picture of me out on my pleasure cruise.
"She wasn't talking about you and me, sir," said Jeeves.
"She wasn't talking about me, sir," said Jeeves.
That isn't something you and I would do, is it?
That isn't something I would do, is it? 
 I feel so much better having that peeve off my chest. Time to ring Jeeves to bring something bracing, I should think.

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