He gave it to my wife and I. · The rocks hurt John and I.
The car is my son and I’s. · It’s Mary and I’s anniversary tomorrow.
The only people that came were Sophia and myself. · They did it for Chris and I.
Do those sentences make you cringe? Or do at least one or two them seem correct to you?
In each example, “I” or “myself” should be replaced with “me.” But “me” has become a dirty word and most people do everything they can to avoid saying it. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the heart of Silicon Valley or the remotest wilds of Alaska, you’ll hear examples that would make a grammarian blush. And they make I wince.
But there’s the oddity, everyone knows “make I wince” isn’t correct. So, why does adding another person to the sentence suddenly transform “me” to “I?” And what produced this linguistic transformation in recent years?
My personal theory is that people became so used to hearing phrases such as “John and me [or “Me and John”] went to the park” being corrected to “John and I . . .” that they eventually concluded every instance of “and me” needed to be changed to “and I.” This correction, coupled with a lack of understanding as to the reason behind it, resulted in the current overuse of “and I.”
So, in our writing, how do we determine when to use, “I,” “me,” and “myself” correctly?
“I” and “Me”
“I” is used for the subject of a sentence and “me” is used for the object. This is true when another person is involved, or even multiple people.
“I” as the Subject
The subject of a sentence is the person or thing doing the action. For example, “the dog swam” or “I breathed.” Even when there is more than one “doer” and one of those is the writer or speaker, you use I:
- The dog and I swam.
- Mary and I breathed.
“Me” as the Object
The object of a sentence is the person or thing “receiving” the action. An object can also be “direct” or “indirect.”
- The dog ate the bone.
Here, “the bone” is the direct object because it’s the thing the dog ate.
- The dog bit me.
Similarly, here “me” is the direct object because it’s the thing (or person) that was bitten. But what if the dog bit me and someone else? In that case, it is NOT, “the dog bit John and I” but “the dog bit John and me.”
Note too, just as you wouldn’t write “I and John bought a dog,” it is generally incorrect to put “me” before John when they are the direct objects of the sentence:
- The dog bit me and John. (WRONG)
- The dog bit John and me. (CORRECT)
An exception to this would be if you forgot the dog also bit John, and you add it as an afterthought:
- The dog bit me . . . and John.
- The man gave a dollar to Mary.
Here, the man is the subject, a dollar is the direct object, and Mary is the indirect object. An indirect object is usually preceded by the words “to” or “for.” Here’s another example:
- Jesus died for you and me.
Jesus is the subject and “you” and “me” are indirect objects. Jesus didn’t die for you and I. He died for you and me.
“Myself”: A Reflexive Pronoun
So, when do you use “myself” and when do you use “me?” The basic answer is pretty straightforward. When “I” is both the subject and object of the sentence, you use the reflexive pronoun, “myself” instead of “me.”
Here are a couple of examples:
- I gave myself a treat.
- I watched myself on TV last night.
In both cases, “I” am both the doer and receiver of the action but you wouldn’t say “I gave me a treat” or “I watched me on TV last night.”
Note: “Myself” can also be used to add emphasis: “I did it myself.” It also has colloquial uses beyond the scope of this post.
“My” and “Mine”: Possessives
“My” and “Mine” are very similar and it can be hard to determine which one to use. However, they have distinct roles. “My” is a possessive adjective (a word that describes a noun, i.e., a thing) whereas “mine” is a possessive pronoun (a word that stands in for another noun). In practice, this means that “my” always needs a noun by its side. “Mine,” on the other hand, being a pronoun, stands alone.
Here are some examples:
- The car is mine.
Here, you could have said, “The car is my car” but “mine” replaces “my car.” That’s the function of pronouns, to replace nouns.
- My car is red.
Here, “my” is used because it’s giving detail as to the ownership of the car. It’s describing the car, so is a possessive adjective.
- That dog is my dog.
Here, “my” is being used to emphasize the fact of ownership of the dog. It’s also correct to write, “That dog is mine,” but it doesn’t have quite the same emphasis.
But how do you use “my” and “mine” in multiple owner scenarios?
Possessives in multiple owner scenarios can be a bit of a . . . “mine-field” . . . and can be some of the hardest sentences to get right. But there are two key rules to remember.
- The possessive you use is the same one you’d use if there was only one owner in the scenario.
- When there is more than one, the “my” or “mine” always comes last.
It is never, Never, NEVER, NEVER! NEVER! correct to have a possessive apostrophe -s after the word I.
Correct Usage Examples:
- It is Wendy’s and my anniversary tomorrow. NOT “It is Wendy and my anniversary tomorrow.”
- The car is Wendy’s and mine. NOT “The car is Wendy and mine.” (Though you could also write “The car is hers and mine.”)
- The school principal was mean to Wendy’s and my children. (Though grammatically correct, this is still ambiguous because you can’t tell if the children belong to both Wendy and me or whether we have separate children. In such cases, if it’s not obvious to the listener or reader, it’s probably best to rework the sentence for clarity.)
- Albert gave $5 to Brian and Clare. You are Clare. Complete the sentence: “Albert gave $5 to ___ and ___.”
- David bought some flowers for Emily and Francesca. You are Emily. Complete the sentence: David bought some flowers for ___ and ___.
- Gavin and Heidi have an appointment tomorrow. You are Heidi telling a friend about the appointment. Complete the sentence: It is ___ and ___ appointment tomorrow.
- As #3, but you are Gavin. Complete the sentence: It is ___ and ___ appointment tomorrow.
- Ivan and Jane are going swimming tomorrow. You are Ivan. Complete the sentence: ___ and ___ are going swimming tomorrow.
- Kevin and Liam were waiting at a bus stop when a cyclist hit them. You are Kevin. Complete the sentence: A cyclist hit ___ and ___ at a bus stop.
- Complete the sentence in #6 but you are now Liam.
- Mary sat in a rocking chair last night and the rocking sent her to sleep. You are Mary. Complete the sentence: ___ rocked ___ to sleep in a rocking chair last night.
- Look at the partial lyric below from John Legend’s song entitled “You and I.” Are the “You and I’s” grammatically correct or not? Why?
All of the stars, you make them shine like they were ours
Ain’t nobody in the world but you and I, You and I
Ain’t nobody in the world but you and I
- What about the chorus from One Direction’s song also entitled “You and I?” Does this need to be corrected? If so, how?
You and I, we don’t wanna be like them
We can make it ’til the end
Nothing can come between you and I
Not even the Gods above
Can separate the two of us
No, nothing can come between you and I
Oh, you and I
- Who’s correct, Kris Kristofferson or Bill Myers . . . or both? Why? Or is it a matter of preference?
“Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues
And buddy, that was good enough for me
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee.“
“The Adventures of McGee and Me!”
If you are a member of Inspire Christian Writers and would like to post your answers to these questions in our Writing 101 forum, or discuss the grammar points raised by this post, you can do so here: