Choosing between ‘I’ and ‘me’

The choice between ‘I’ and ‘me’ causes a lot of grief.

Of all the issues that I discuss in writing workshops, it’s near the top of the list of things that cause confusion. It definitely tops the list of issues that people get wrong when they’re absolutely convinced they’re right!

Last week I enjoyed listening to Michael Cathcart (Books and Arts, Radio National) as he checked himself on his use of ‘I’ and ‘me’.

He said:

‘… that’s plenty of time for you and me to read. Or is it you and I? No, it’s you and me …’

It’s not very often that I notice a radio presenter checking their grammar, but here it was in action.

The little rule in operation is this: take out the other person, and then decide whether you’d use ‘I’ or ‘me’.

In Cathcart’s case, it would make sense to say: ‘… plenty of time for me to read …’. He wouldn’t say ‘… plenty of time for I to read …’. So of course he was correct to say ‘… plenty of time for you and me to read …’.

Why do so many of us get this confused? I’ve got a theory: As children, we’re taught not to say ‘me and you, so we correct it to ‘you and I’. We confuse the cultural decision to put the other person first with the grammatical decision to use ‘I’ for the subject and ‘me’ for the object. Many of us were never taught the difference between subject and object, so we become confused.

We make the mistake, hear the mistake being made, and it becomes our normal pattern. Pity, because the solution is so simple.

Here it is again, as a little four-step process:

  1. Remove the other person.
  2. Test whether you’d use ‘I’ or ‘me’ if you were the only person in the sentence.
  3. Make the choice.
  4. Add the other person back into the sentence.