The Grammarphobia Blog

“I” strain

Q: I hear more and more people substitute “I’s” for “my” or “mine.” For example, “My friends had a wonderful time at Jason and I’s party.” Ouch! That hurts my ears! Is this something that will fade away, or will it eventually become accepted?

A: You’re right. A lot of people are using “I’s” as a possessive of “I,” though mostly in place of “my,” not “mine.”

We got millions of hits when we googled “John and I’s,” “Bob and I’s,” and so on. Here are a few examples:

● “You really captured the spirit of John and I’s relationship and I absolutely cannot wait to see more of the shots!”

● “Thank you for supporting Jason and I’s celebration.”

 ● “Bob and I’s story is short, pathetic and kind of sweet!”

 ● “Tomorrow is Sam and I’s 2nd wedding anniversary.”

This usage seems to be relatively new. The earliest examples we could find were from 2004. Here’s an early one from the film producer Harvey Weinstein about the Weinstein brothers’ rocky relationship with Disney.

“They get to see my books all the time, so there’s no hiding what we do. On the flip side, Bob and I’s pay is determined by accounting from Disney. I don’t get to see everything unless I ask for an audit.”

Getting back to your question, what should be used in place of “Jason and I’s party”?

Well, “Jason’s and my party” would be correct, but that’s not the most felicitous phrasing. We’d prefer something like “our party” or, if you need to mention Jason, “our party, Jason’s and mine.”

Is this “I’s” business something that will fade away? Probably, but only time will tell.

In looking into your question, we came across a paper by Karen Milligan, a linguist at Wayne State University, about the grammar of joint possession.

In “Expressing Joint Possession: Or, Why me and Mary’s paper wasn’t accepted (but Bob and I’s was),” she suggests that the natural way of expressing joint possession (she calls it “the default construction”), is “me and Sean’s.”

She says this is “syntactically the most economical choice and the one utilized by children first. It is also the one adults revert to subconsciously—when under stress or in unguarded speech.”

Ms. Milligan writes that the early usage “declines with age, leading to eventual abandonment” as the “over-extension or misappropriation of prescriptive rules results in constructions that are semantically altered and/or unpredicted by the grammar of English.”

In other words, she seems to be arguing, we got it right as toddlers and we can blame English teachers for our difficulties in expressing joint possession as adults.

Well, that’s enlightening. But since you’re a grownup who expresses joint possession in an adult (albeit syntactically uneconomical) way, you might be interested in a brief post we wrote a few years ago on the subject.

[Update, Oct. 5, 2013. A reader had this interesting comment: “I think that you may find a commonality among most uses of ‘X and I’s’—it is predominantly used when the speaker thinks of the pair of people as a single entity. So couples (or a pair of siblings) will use it when they are talking about themselves as a unit. The possessive gets applied to the noun phrase ‘John and I.’

“This structure would be much less likely to occur with temporary or less significant pairs. If I were to team up with a colleague at work to solve a problem, I would never refer to ‘Trevor and I’s plan.’ However, it would not be uncomfortable to make reference to ‘Heather and I’s wedding anniversary.’ ”]

Check out our books about the English language