Are You Talking to I?
by Cherie Tucker
Oh, pronouns. They’ve confounded the best of us lately. And
it’s not just the who/whom problem anymore. Is it me or I?
She or her? And how can you tell? And what’s a
A pronoun is a word that stands in for a noun (the name of
something) when you don’t want to repeat the noun endlessly. (Jim
will drive his own car when he gets off work.
rather than Jim will drive Jim’s own car
when Jim gets off work.) Unlike nouns, however, which
don’t change depending on how they are used in sentences, pronouns
change all the time. Luckily no one older than three has any
trouble when there is only one of them. You wouldn’t say, “Me
went to the store.” But when there is more than one pronoun, the
trouble starts, as in, “Me and my mom went to the store.”
If you back up and take them one at a time, you can generally get
out of that trap. Your computer will even warn you with the dreaded
Me went to the store. My mom went to the store.
The other pronoun horror is often heard from the mouths of educated
folk in their mistaken efforts to sound elegant: Thank you for
inviting my wife and I. You really can’t invite I
anywhere. It’s especially confusing now that our ears are hearing
incorrect usage all the time (a government for we, the people?
No, it’s for us, the people), so here’s how these
pronouns function. If the pronoun is doing something, you
need to use one from column A. If the pronoun is getting done to,
use the one from column B:
NO: Me and my dad go fishing. YES: My dad
and I go
fishing. (Dad goes; I go.)
NO: Thanks for inviting my wife and I. YES: Thanks for inviting
my wife and me. (for
inviting my wife; for
Generally you shouldn’t start a sentence with any of the words in
column B (unless you’re saying something like, “Him I can’t
stand.”), and never should you use column A’s words when you really
mean column B. It could confuse we if him and you did that.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits