The Grammarphobia Blog

When good grammar sounds bad

Q: Your Dec. 31, 2008, blog entry says, “There’s no grammatical rule that when you mention yourself along with another person, you mention yourself last.” I must say that your statement bothers me on an almost instinctual level. Wouldn’t this mean that it would be correct to say “I and Joan went to the store”? That sounds so awkward! It makes me think that mentioning oneself last is a stylistic issue, not one of grammar or etiquette.

A: There’s nothing grammatically wrong with saying “I and Joan went to the store” (just as there’s nothing wrong with putting the subject pronoun first in “He and Joan went to the store”).

In fact, you can find published references for this practice in the Oxford English Dictionary going back to the Middle Ages. For example, a poem from around 1300 has these lines about a husband and wife passing a bunch of old barns: “I and mi wijf on ald tas / Of barns er we passed pe pass.”

But idiom is often against this usage. (Call it stylistic if you want.) The “I and Joan went” wording seems awkward on the tongue. Common practice is to put “I” closer to the verb.

There are times, however, when “I” seems natural in first position: “I and a few of my friends decided to throw an Inaugural Day party” … “I and my brothers think Dad should have a home helper.”

Interestingly, I find that people who use the incorrect objective case in a construction like the one you mentioned have no hesitation in putting themselves first: “Me and Joan went to the store.”

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