For a country of belly-button gazers, we don't know how to talk about ourselves. A lot of people use "I" when they should use "me" and vice-versa. Luckily, solving this problem is pretty easy. Just ask yourself: Is the word the subject or the object?
- I work at the museum. (subject of "to work")
- My mother gave me a beautiful sweater. (object of "to give")
More complex examples:
- She is taller than I. (subject of the omitted verb "to be": She is taller than I am.)
- Between you and me, I never liked raw fish. (object of "between")
- No one but me does the dishes. (object of "but" - used as a preposition)
Pronoun use in English is pretty easy for most native speakers. We know when to use plural forms for subjects (we or they), and we know how to say "Call us when you get there." But things seem to fall apart in two cases:
- When the pronoun is only one of the subjects.
- When the pronoun is only one of the objects.
And if the pronoun in question is "I" (or "me"?), everyone's grammar confidence seems to go out the window.
Don't worry. I'm here to break it down for you.
In simple terms, a compound subject is a subject that contains two or more individual nouns. It doesn't matter if each noun refers to one person, place, or thing or multiple people, places, or things. In other words, "we" is not a compound subject but "Jamie and I" is.
Let's look at some examples.
- I went to the beach.
- She ate sushi.
- He and I went to the beach. (or Dave and I went to the beach.)
- She and I ate sushi. (or Susan and I ate sushi.)
As I'm sure you've figured out, a compound object is an object that contains one or more individual nouns.
Let's look at some examples of simple and compound objects.
- Give the ball to me.
- John hugged her.
- Give the ball to him and me.
- John hugged her and me.
Simple trick #1
If you're ever stumped about which form of a pronoun to use in a compound subject or compound object, simply omit the part that you know and write the sentence with only the part that you aren't sure about. (Or write both parts separately, if you like to be careful.)
Here, I'll show you.
- He and I ran four miles.
- He ran four miles.
- I ran four miles.
- Me and her took the bus to school.
- Me took the bus to school. - Nope!
- Her took the bus to school. - Nope!
- She and I took the bus to school. - Yup!
- Should Bob return the book to her or me?
- Should Bob return the book to her?
- Should Bob return the book to me?
- My neighbor babysat she and I when we were little.
- My neighbor babysat she when were were little. - Nope!
- My neighbor babysat I when we were little. - Nope!
- My neighbor babysat her and me when we were little. - Yup!
- He hit her and I with snowballs.
- He hit her with snowballs.
- He hit I with snowballs. - Nope!
- He hit her and me with snowballs. - Yup!
Simple trick #2
If the way that you think is correct still sounds wrong to you, you can always use the noun instead of the pronoun (except for "I" and "me," unless you commonly refer to yourself in the third person!). Here are the same examples with fewer pronouns:
- John and I ran four miles.
- My sister and I took the bus to school.
- Should Bob return the book to Jane or me?
- My neighbor babysat my sister and me when we were little.
- He hit Susan and me with snowballs.
Did you notice the placement of "I" and "me" in the example sentences? In the English language, we always list "I" or "me" last. I'm not sure if it's a way to be humble or just the way the language developed, but it has become a usage rule. When you construct a sentence with more than one subject or object, list pronouns other than I/me first, then nouns, and finally I/me. This sounds more complicated than it is.
- Mary and he went to Italy for their honeymoon.
- Me and Mary walk around Green Lake every Thursday.
- Mary, he, and I went to college together.
- He and Mary went to Italy for their honeymoon.
- Mary and I walk around Green Lake every Thursday.
- He, Mary, and I went to college together.
One final note on pronouns
All of the examples lack context. In a real-world situation, please make sure that you've introduced the thing that the pronoun replaces before you use the pronoun. Otherwise, your reader will be wondering, "Who the heck is 'she'?" Not identifying pronouns can lead to some fun misunderstandings in texts, tweets, and Facebook posts. But, for more formal writing, you probably want to avoid that type of "fun."
Your turn: Do the correct examples sound right to you?