[Note: A more definitive post on this subject appeared later.]
Q: I often hear people say “than me” when I believe they should be saying “than I.” I hear this on a fairly regular basis, and occasionally see it in published work. The problem is that I am at a loss to explain why “than me” is wrong and “than I” is right. I thank you in advance for taking the trouble to clarify this point.
A: Both “than I” and “than me” can be correct, depending on what you mean.
For example, if you said, “He likes her better than me,” you would mean “better than he likes me.” If you said (correctly but a bit stiffly), “He likes her better than I,” you would mean “better than I do.” In that second case, you might be better off adding the final verb and saying, “better than I do.”
But usages like “He’s bigger than me” are sometimes frowned upon by sticklers. They regard “than” as a conjunction, not a preposition. So they would accept only “He’s bigger than I” and “He’s bigger than I am” as correct in standard English.
The sticklers, however, are no longer in the majority. Many grammarians and usage gurus, including William Safire, accept “than” as a preposition, and say the object pronoun (“me,” “him,” “us,” and so on) afterward is just fine. Certainly common usage is on their side.
You seem to be asking for a “correctness” call. But we can’t be definitive about this, at least not today. A grammatical shift seems to be going on, with more and more authorities recognizing that “than” is both a preposition and a conjunction.
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