In my preteen and teen years, I was all about fashion and outward appearance, music and dance, and those tendencies followed me into each decade. Until most recently, I always wore lipstick and mascara at a minimum and was often under a layer of foundation to hide the blemishes. At 65, it's particularly freeing to be a little less concerned about the veneer. Now I focus on polishing communication rather than polishing my face. But this move feels right. I've always had a fondness for the written word in correct form. I can hear myself using a variation of one of Mom's truisms in claiming that, like good manners, "Good language is never out of style."
As I launch into this phase of life -- into the opportunity to blog about things that matter to me, I hope many peers and younger adults will follow along. Attempts at humor, both fruitful and in vain, will accompany practical advice. So, join me!
Today's attempt at "styling with good language" : determining correct usage for the subject pronoun I and the object pronoun me. The simple answer? Use I in the subject portion of a sentence or phrase; me in the object portion. Since many of us do not favor grammar, however, we find these issues confusing. I think I can help.
I hear something close to these "Language Lemons" daily:..in conversation with friends and strangers, network television shows, Hallmark movies, or cable news.
Come to the store with Mom and I.
Sean and me are getting ready to exercise.
Both are incorrect; but be encouraged! There's a quick way to check ourselves on these tricky familiar grammar forms. Simply omit the first noun and the conjunction and; then say the sentence aloud and Bingo! You've just employed the "It Doesn't Sound Right!" check. The first sentence uses the pronoun as an object; the second uses the pronoun as a subject. Perhaps that helps? If not, read on for my clues below.
Whisper the sentences that follow. Or -- say them aloud if you're old enough that you're freeing yourself of all kinds of concerns (such as being heard talking to yourself) -- except good grammar, of course!
Come to the store with I. No! And I don't think this is routinely heard, thankfully.
Come to the store with me. Yes!
Plug the noun and conjunction in again:
Come to the store with Mom and me.
Me is getting ready to exercise. Correct only if you are a toddler, exploring language, but largely NO.
I am getting ready to exercise. Perfect!
Plug it all back in!
Sean and I are getting ready to exercise.
To mildly complicate this straight-forward "It Doesn't Sound Right!" check, let's look at more complex sentence construction. How about sentences with dependent clauses? These seem to add an extra clue to the puzzle. I have a hard time imagining that someone would actually use I instead of me in the sentence below.
After we had breakfast, Ryan helped I clean the kitchen. No!
After we had breakfast, Ryan helped me clean the kitchen. Yes!
You can still administer the "It Doesn't Sound Right!" check. Remember to delete the first of the two subjects and the verb (Delete Subject/Delete Verb/Rehearse Remainder), then say the sentence aloud so you can judge it by ear. You'll have to alter another word, using the past tense of clean, to be grammatically correct:
After we had breakfast, I cleaned the kitchen. Yes!
For a variety of reasons, sentences following the form of the first sentence below are widely accepted. These "Ryan and me" type sentences really don't upset "normal" folks, but they fire up my ire! I'll encourage my readers to use the "Delete Subject/Delete Conjunction/Rehearse Remainder" check (also known as the "It Doesn't Sound Right!" check) to stay in the "Straight and Narrow" Language Lane.
After we had breakfast, Ryan and me cleaned the kitchen. No!
(Check: After breakfast, me cleaned the kitchen.)
After we had breakfast, Ryan and I cleaned the kitchen. Yes!
(Check: After breakfast, I cleaned the kitchen.)
I recall posting on Facebook some weeks ago about Mika Brzezinski's melodious morning greeting on Morning Joe, hailing her capacity to use me properly in "Along with Joe, Willie, and me, we have (insert names of guests) joining us this morning." The irony is that I THOUGHT I SAW the spelling B-R-E-Z-I-N-S-K-I on the television screen. I thought I'd seen it a hundred times on screen, so that's what I used in my Facebook comment. I WAS WRONG. I misspelled Mika's last name. I rarely return to those public airings of private thoughts unless I'm highly engaged in a topic, so for all of my friends who were LOLing at my post error, I only realized it this very minute. Please forgive me for posting a misspelled proper name! Ms. Brzezinski, I regret the error, but I'm learning my value and I'm learning through my errors, so I know this doesn't define me.
Back to the topic, though. I'm always happy in the morning when I hear those words roll effortlessly off Mika Brzezinski's tongue and often offer her a "Way to go, Mika!"
The "Language Lemons" I most often hear -- the incorrect usage of I and me -- can easily be eradicated by tuning in to such well-spoken news hosts as Ms. Brzezinski and modeling their language, and by making consistent usage of the "It Doesn't Sound Right!" check -- or, in this case, "Delete Subject/Delete Conjunction/Rehearse Remainder." By now, you've gathered that the "It Doesn't Sound Right!" check isn't tied to one sentence type alone; rather to the phenomenon that our ears often hear what doesn't sound correct or which grammar form of two or three sounds best even though we may not habitually use the correct form.
My chosen veneer on which to focus these days concerns avoiding "Language Lemons," and bringing to life the adage that "Good language never goes out of style." Regardless of the length of time you've been confusing correct and incorrect usage of any grammar forms and specifically of I and me, you can correct this and form new habits with consistent practice. If this resonates with you, and there's some language you'd like to polish -- whether on air, online, or face to face -- you can do it! I can help!