Grammar Usage

Me and my shadow

Q: I’m constantly hearing “Me and (fill in any name) went to wherever.” I feel like an old school marm (which I am), but I’m astounded that the phrase is even commonplace in TV commercials. Is this now acceptable grammar? Am I missing something?

A: We can’t say that we hear this as often as you do—but then, we seldom watch television (too much to read and too much work to do!). However, we do encounter this misuse from time to time.

Pat was once invited to appear before a large group of school teachers and administrators in suburban New Jersey. A high school principal and one of his colleagues approached her beforehand to apologize because, as the principal said, “Me and him have to leave early.”

This is a true story. We have witnesses!

No, using “me” as the subject of a sentence is not considered acceptable grammar. It’s nonstandard English and widely regarded as a grammatical faux pas. What’s more, we don’t sense any change in the wind.

(We’ll have something to say later about why the practice persists, including one usage authority’s lukewarm defense of it.)

Language does change, of course. Variations in spelling, pronunciation, and meaning come along with some regularity, and if they persist in common usage they eventually gain acceptance. This is a natural process in the development of a language.

But grammar is much more resistant to change, as we’ve written before on the blog. The cases of English pronouns are well established, and “me” is an object, not a subject.

A much more frequent misuse in English is the mirror image of this one. Many people use “I” where they should use “me,” as in “That’s up to you and I.” We’ve written about this problem too, including posts in 2010 and 2009.

Getting back to this business of using “me” as a subject, why do so many people prefer “me” to “I”?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage suggests that politeness may be a factor here.

Although “I and someone” and “someone and I” are the traditional subjects, Merriam-Webster’s says,  “I and someone seems a bit impolite.”

So, M-W adds, “in actual practice we also find me and someone and someone and me.”

Of the two constructions, the M-W editors say, “me and someone does have the minor virtue of putting the me in the emphatic position, where it is slightly less noticeable.”

Really? It seems to us that putting “me” in front makes it more noticeable, not less so.

In the end, M-W acknowledges that you’ll make a poor impression by using either “me and someone” or “someone and me” as a subject:

“Both are speech forms, often asociated with the speech of children, and are likely to be unfavorably noticed in the speech and writing of adults except when used facetiously.”

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