I versus Me

I just received an excellent question about proper first-person pronoun usage. The issue is tough to resolve because sometimes grammatical correctness takes a back seat to common usage, and rightly so. Now, on to the question:

I am a teacher in South Africa and recently found a worksheet with the heading “Me and My Environment”. Is this heading grammatically correct and would it be appropriate to hand out to the children (I don’t want parents turning around and complaining)

Let’s start with the easier part of the question:

Is “Me and My Environment” grammatically correct?

The short answer is no. It’s not grammatically correct, in the most prescriptive sense of the term. Consider, though, another expression that technically isn’t correct: “Woe is me.” Would anyone in her right mind argue that the expression should be “Woe is I”? Of course not. In fact, Patricia O’Connor has written a book called Woe Is I that addresses a number of grammar issues that perhaps concern people a little too much. Another common expression, “Me and my big mouth!” would sound ridiculous in the grammatically correct form: “My big mouth and I!”

Would it be appropriate to hand out to the children

Only you can determine what is appropriate for your classroom in this regard. However, I can give you some suggestions based on what I might do in the same situation.

If you are an elementary school teacher responsible for instructing students in English as well as environmental science, you could use the handout’s title as an opportunity to teach a “mini-lesson” on pronoun use and see if they can rewrite it to be more proper. You could ask students to consider differences between colloquial English and formal English—or ask them to think about differences between the way people talk and the way people write. Sometimes it just helps to get children to think about the language and play with it a little.

I’m very interested to hear how you ultimately handle the situation. I hope you will find the time to post a comment and let us know what decision you made and how it went.

One more note: While I understand the fear of parental complaint, my experience has been that it’s nearly unavoidable. Some parents seem predisposed to pick a fight, even on the shakiest of grounds. Remember that you are the expert. Have confidence in the decisions you make for your classroom. But also be willing to admit a mistake. Your integrity and honesty will go a long way in disarming those who try to bully you.

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21 Responses to I versus Me

  1. Larry says:

    Subject: Me vs. Myself
    I had learned to use myself as a reflexive pronoun. That is, only when the sentence implied doing something to “me.” Example, I hit myself. Are there exceptions when the pronoun me should be used? Help!

  2. Hi Larry,
    You’re correct about using “myself” as a reflexive pronoun. In A Writer’s Reference, Diana Hacker writes, “reflexive pronouns name a receiver of an action identical with the doer of the action (Paula cut herself).”
    “Myself” can also be used as an intensive pronoun: “I myself am going to climb the hill.”
    Read more about these pronouns in my other entry, Me Myself or I.

  3. Joann says:

    My husband and I are having a disagreement about “I” vs. “me”. In the following sentence, should “I” or “me” be used:
    Bill is younger than I.
    Bill is younger than me.
    Thanks for clearing this up for us!

  4. Karl says:

    Hi Joann,
    Great question! The first sentence is grammatically correct: “Bill is younger than I.”
    What we have here is an elliptical comparison, meaning that part of it has been omitted. A good way to figure out the proper form of the pronoun is to complete such a comparison, if only in your head. So, your sentence would look like this: “Bill is younger than I am (young).” As soon as we put “am” in there, it becomes quite clear that the correct form of the pronoun is “I.”
    Of course, we should also be aware of the grammar of colloquial speech and adjust accordingly so as not to appear too stuffy. Frankly, there are some situations in which proper grammar may not be appropriate.

  5. Juliet says:

    I was recently working on a grammar sheet with my3rd grade students and this question came up in reference to using “I” or “me”:
    Mrs. Smith gave my friend and _____ a book.
    Is it “I” or “me?” “I” sounds correct, but I learned that the trick was to cover up the “my friend and” part and the sentence would read
    Mrs. Smith gave me a book.
    The students were confused and so was I!

  6. Karl says:

    Juliet, even though it may sound wrong, the sentence is correct with “me.” The rule you learned should help you in most cases to discover the right form of the word.

  7. Martin says:

    If someone asks “Who did it?”, is the correct answer
    “It was me.” or
    “It was I.”
    I believe in school I learned the first version, but recently I read the second version somewhere. So, what’s correct and why?

    Thanks in advance for any help.

  8. adam says:

    A song called “I belong to me” by Jessica Simpson shouldn’t be “I belong to myself”??
    If the song’s title is somehow acceptable, what is the grammar rule behind that?
    If not, what was the reason for Jessica to have chosen that one over “I belong to myself”?
    I appreaciate your guidance.

  9. Kristopher says:

    Which of the following sentences would be the correct sentence of the following list? This is driving me crazy. Most sentences sound incorrect; however, the first in the following list sounds correct but only in casual speech. Most of the other sentences listed seem very incorrect altogether. I added them to the list to help demonstrate my frustration with the issue.
    Please help me to undo the knots in my head!
    1.) “Kris and I are going to Oregon.”
    2.) “Kris and I am going to Oregon.”
    3.) “Me and Kris are going to Oregon.”
    4.) “Kris and me am going to Oregon.”
    Thank you!

  10. Karl says:

    Hi Kristopher,
    The first one is correct. Substitute we for Kris and I, and it should be clear.

  11. Rebecca Uyleman says:

    The sentence in question is as follows:
    Please plan on joining Jin and I at Frank

  12. Karl says:

    The second sentence is correct. The AutoCorrect feature was wrong. If you remove “Jin and,” it should be clear that “me” is the correct choice.

  13. Addi says:

    Hi Karl,

    I was this morning reprimanded for saying “The key rings were given to Sue and me” and was told by my Colleague that I should say “Sue and I”. When I explained if I removed “Sue” from the sentence it would not make sense to say “The key rings were given to I”, I was told I was wrong! Would you please confirm the correct way of expressing this Karl and the reasoning behind it?

  14. Karl says:

    Hi Addi,
    You are correct, and the explanation you gave is a fine one. If you want to know the grammar rule, it’s that “I” is used as a subject and “me” is used as an object. In your sentence, “Sue and me” is the object of the preposition “to.”
    I hope that helps.

  15. Angela says:

    I’ve been trying to use previous replies to solve my own problem, but I want to make certain this is correct…
    “You can go ahead and sign Dee and me up for the equipment station where we worked last time.”
    If I “cover up” ‘Dee and’ then this would be correct. Perhaps it sounds strange because it rhymes? Or is it “…sign up Dee and I up for the…”

  16. Bungle Bear says:

    “Me and My Environment” is only grammatically incorrect in as much as it is an incomplete sentence. I would hazard a guess that in full context it would probably be correct – something like “Climate change and its effect on me and my environment”.
    Your understanding of the phrase “Woe is me” is incorrect. It does not mean “I am woe”. It means “Woe is (to) me” using the dative and is therefore grammatically correct.
    “Me and my big mouth” is an elliptical construction. If you take it to mean “(It is/was because of) me and my big mouth” it is grammatically correct.

  17. Mel says:

    My coworker and I had conflicting ideas on this sentence…
    Here is the report for Bob, Sue and I.
    Is this correct? Or should it be…
    Here is the report for Bob, Sue and me.

  18. Karl says:

    It should be Here is the report for Bob, Sue and me.
    If you drop Bob and Sue from the sentence, you’ll see that me makes sense here.

  19. Sarah Wood says:

    Which of the following sentences is correct?
    Sarah and I are in the foreground.
    Sarah and me are in the foreground.

  20. Karl says:

    Sarah and I are in the foreground.

  21. chris tl says:

    Kari, you’ve been answering these questions for a long time! I’m sorry several of the above questions were actually answered previously (some people obviously didn’t read through).
    Just tonight, I was struggling (slightly) with this sentence someone wrote: I thought it was rather talented of me.
    I want to argue that she should have said “I” at the end. It is I. It is talented of I.
    I am 99% sure I am correct, but the “of” threw me off slightly.