Grandma’s Law: I vs. Me

9 Jan

My grandma is a stickler for grammar, so it’s no wonder that I ended up the way that I did.  But while I understand that a properly used subjunctive clause doesn’t get everyone’s heart racing, like it does mine, my grandma is a little less understanding.  She loves grammar, and if you don’t, well, you’d better figure out pretty quickly how to fake it in front of her.  But growing up, and even now, the grammar rule that she most ardently championed was the “I vs. me” rule.

I think that being very picky about the correct time to say “I” and the correct time to say “me” is a prerequisite to becoming a grandmother.  I like to imagine a line of potential grandmothers in a DMV-like facility, being questioned by some sort of grandmother sergeant.

Sergeant: Do you swear to spoil your grandchildren indiscriminantly?

Grandmother: Yes.

Sergeant: Do you swear to never–I mean never–look out your rearview mirror while backing out of your driveway?

Grandmother: Of course.

Sergeant: Will you insist on buying ill-fitted clothing from somewhere like Talbots or L.L. Bean for your teenaged grandchildren on their birthdays and major holidays?

Grandmother: Actually, if I could get my bag, I can show you this lovely turtleneck sweater vest I just bought for my grandson–

Sergeant: … and finally, do you swear that whenever one your grandchildren says “me” when she should have said “I,” you will immediately correct her, and not let the conversation continue until she has proven that she is repentant and will never do it again, so help you God?

Grandmother: I do.

Nearly every conversation I had with my grandma growing up involved an interaction like this:

Me: … and Lisa and me went to the park, and we–

Grandma: Lisa and I.

Me: No, you weren’t there.  Lisa and me were there, and–

Grandma: Lisa and I.  It isn’t Lisa and me.  It’s Lisa and I.

Me: Oh, okay.  Anyway, we were at the park–

Grandma: Say it.

Me: Say what?

Grandma: Say “Lisa and I.”

Me: Lisa and I were at the park–

Grandma: Very good.

Me: Now I’ve forgotten my story.

The problem is that grandmas seem to indiscriminately favor “I” over “me.”  But guess what, world’s grandmas?  Sometimes it is “me.”  Here’s how to decide if you should be saying “I” or “me.”

“I” — I is a first-person singular subject pronoun.  This means that if, in your sentence (written or spoken), you are the person doing the action, you should use I.  This is pretty easy with simple sentences.  Cookie Monster being the exception, you won’t run into too many people seriously saying, “Me want cookies.”  If you want cookies, you recognize that you are the person doing the action (wanting), and so you say, “I want cookies.”  If there are multiple subjects in your sentence (“Lisa and I”), the same rule applies.  An old elementary school rule works well here: if you’re unsure whether to use I or me, try the sentence with just I or me in it.  Another trick to decide between the two is to substitute he for I and him for me. Your ear is pretty (though not completely) reliable once the sentence is cleared up a bit.

“Me” — When we were younger, our grandmas went to work training us to say “I” instead of “me.”  Unfortunately, some of our grandmas have trained us too well: there are slews of people out there, walking around, saying foolish things like, “Well, just between you and I, something very secret and terrible is going to happen on Wall Street today.”

Let me say this very clearly: the correct answer is NOT ALWAYS I.  I is a subject, and me is an object: this means that I does something, whereas me has something done to it.  

If the pronoun is the object of a preposition (in simple terms, meaning that it immediately or almost immediately follows a preposition) like between, then you need to use the objective pronoun: me.  So it is correct to say “between you and me” or “behind Stan and me.”  In fact, anytime something is happening to your pronoun, the answer is me.  “He told Jack and me that the scary Wall Street thing wasn’t going to happen anymore” is correct, because the subject (“He”) is acting upon the two objects (“Jack” and “me”).  Remember, you could take “Jack” out to test if the sentence sounded right: “He told me that the scary Wall Street thing wasn’t going to happen anymore.”  However, even though your ears can be useful, don’t rely on them completely: “between you and I” might sound grandma-friendly, but it’s wrong.

So here’s to Grandma, who loved me enough from the very beginning to make sure that I didn’t talk like a fool.  And I mean from the very beginning.  I like to imagine myself as a baby, sitting in a high chair, smearing bananas all over my face, and looking up–with a face full of tenderness and wonder–to say my first fully-formed phrase: “Mommy and me love you.”  And as my parents weep and my aunts and uncle cheer, my grandma reaches out, holds my tiny little hands, looks me in the eyes, and then slaps me sternly on the wrist.

“Mommy and I love you.  Mommy and I.”


2 Responses to “Grandma’s Law: I vs. Me”

  1. jane hibbits January 23, 2011 at 6:41 pm #




  1. Scarring Our Children « - January 21, 2013

    […] 2. The knee-jerk reaction that it’s always “I” and never “me.”  Learn about when it’s “I” and when it’s “me” right here. […]

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