Me, Myself and I: How to Choose Which to Use

kids on bikesDid you as a child ever say, “Me and Billy wanna go for a bike ride!” and have your mom admonish: “Billy and I.”

What about, “Can me and Suzie have a popsicle?” and your mom corrected you, “Suzie and I.

Mom no doubt was trying to teach you the courtesy of mentioning the other child’s name first, but your brain might have been imprinted to avoid me.

No wonder so many of us steer clear of me in places where it truly is the correct choice. The problem: We’re supposed to know better by the time we grow up and communicate with adults in the business world. These tips will help you get it right.

Subjects and Objects

Let’s start with a brief definition of two terms: subject and object

A subject is the doer of the action in a sentence:
I | she | he | they

An object is the receiver of the action in a sentence:
me | her | him | them

I hear him. She sees them. He called me.

Me and I have another grammatical role: They are pronouns. They refer to and stand in for the name of someone or something mentioned previously. Other pronouns are you, he, she, we, him, her, us, they, them and it.

Me vs. I

The following examples show how difficult it can be to choose the right pronoun when the choice is me or I:

My boss (subject) is taking Sarah (object) and I (oops: subject) to lunch.
My boss (subject) is taking Sarah (object) and me (object) to lunch.

She (subject) demonstrated the new software to Rob (object) and I (oops: subject).
She (subject) demonstrated the new software to Rob (object) and me (object).

The easiest way to choose the right pronoun is to eliminate Sarah or Rob. Your ear will help you decide what sounds right:

no: My boss is taking Sarah and I to lunch.
yes: My boss is taking Sarah and me to lunch.

no: She demonstrated the new software to Rob and I.
yes: She demonstrated the new software to Rob and me.

In the above sets of examples, my boss and she are the subjects, the doers of the action; me is the object, the receiver of action.

There are other cases where choosing between me and I can be difficult. Which is correct in these examples?

Jeff likes ice cream more than I.
Jeff likes ice cream more than me.

Does the writer mean:
Jeff likes ice cream more than I [like ice cream], or Jeff likes ice cream more than [he likes] me?

Simply adding the implied “do” makes it clear:

Jeff likes ice cream more than I [do].

Some grammarians consider either me or I acceptable in this kind of sentence construction. I’m not one of them, because I believe using me can leave room for misinterpretation.

She knows Steve better than me.
(She knows Steve better than she knows me?)
(She knows Steve better than I know Steve?)
She knows Steve better than I [do].

He loves baseball more than me.
(He loves baseball more than he loves me?)
(He loves baseball more than I love baseball?)
He loves baseball more than I [do].

Me vs. Myself

Have you ever received messages like these:

Call Ryan or myself if you have questions.
Thank you for notifying Claire and myself about the incident.
Myself and my team are meeting his afternoon.

Myself is a reflexive pronoun belonging to a category of words that end in self or selves. Reflexive pronouns often are used when the subject and object of a sentence are the same. They also help create emphasis.

I myself would never take an unnecessary sick day.
She allowed herself the luxury of a pedicure.
We ourselves performed the entire symphony.
You yourself will have to decide.
I bought myself a latte.

Here are the correct versions of the first set of reflexive pronoun examples:

Call Ryan or myself me if you have questions.
Thank you for notifying Claire and myself me about the incident.
My team and myself I are meeting this afternoon.

Using when it should be me and improperly using myself show that frequent misuse can make erroneous grammar almost sound right.

Don’t fall into the “But everyone says it that way” trap. Know your grammar, and adhere to standards that reflect positively on your communication competence.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

4 thoughts on “Me, Myself and I: How to Choose Which to Use

  1. AvatarUrsula Widera-Cohen

    Dear Kathy,
    how refreshing to wake up to your e-mail this morning to the corrections of the subject/object errors in the use of personal pronouns!
    As an English-as-second-language speaker having started learning English from scratch 50 years ago and working with the public I hear those mistakes frequently, even on NPR, just between “you and I” – another ubiquitous one.
    Thank you, Ursula

    Reply

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