Between Me and You?
Problems Beyond "I" Versus "Me."
Today, Bonnie Trenga is going to help us talk about “me” and “I” and how to order them in a sentence if you're using other pronouns or nouns to make a compound object or subject.
It all started with a call from a listener who had been participating in a lively argument on a New Jersey newspaper site. She was quite adamant in her view that the phrase “between me and you” is correct and that “between you and me” is not. She suggested that we look it up in "Strunk and White." So we did.
The Venerable Strunk and White
Bonnie goes on. She says:
I graduated from Cornell University, where The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, is so popular that it’s almost reverently laid on your freshman dorm pillow like a chocolate mint. Nevertheless, I had somehow neither read it nor owned a copy of it. E. B. White, Strunk’s co-author, was a Cornell alum, too, and I felt he’d be disappointed in me if I didn't set this straight. So I went out and purchased a copy of the revered text, just so everyone, especially those in New Jersey, would know what’s what. I looked up pronouns in the index and was led to page 12, where it clearly indicates that “between you and me” is correct. Strunk and White’s example to illustrate this point is “Let’s talk it over between us, then, you and me” (1).
Good idea! Let’s talk it over between you and me. Other grammarians (2, 3) concur that you put yourself last when “I” or “me” is part of a compound subject or object. I suppose that it’s just the polite thing to do. "Me first" is a bad attitude in life, and so it is in grammar, too.
The pronouns that you can use as subjects are “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” and “we.” If you’re using one noun or pronoun by itself, then you have no problem; but if you want to use two at a time, that’s called a compound subject and you might have a question. Just remember your manners and put “I” last, because according to the Ameican Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, “All pronouns except 'I' normally come before the noun in these compound subjects” (2). So it would be correct to say, “She and Bob climbed the steps” or “Bob and I climbed the steps.” You would never say, “I and Bob climbed the steps.”
If you are using two pronouns in a compound subject, there doesn’t seem to be a rule about the order, except that “I” needs to be last. You’d have to say, “She and I went shopping,” not “I and she went shopping.” It would sound a bit odd, but I suppose you could say, “They and she went shopping” or “She and they went shopping.”
It works in the same way with pronouns you use as objects. These are “me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “it,” “them,” and “us.” It’s “me” last, not first, in a compound, so it would be correct to say these sentences, taken from the Grammar Desk Reference: “He invited Jodie and me”; “Larry will be calling her and me tomorrow”; and “She gave him and me some advice” (3).
Now when we consider the “between me and you” or “between you and me” question, we know that “between you and me” has to be right. The pronouns “me” and “you” are parts of a compound object of the preposition “between,” and we’ve learned that “me” is an underachiever and has to go last.
So far I have read only page 12 of The Elements of Style, and between you and me, I should have read it 20 years ago. I’ll just blame it on the professors I had, since none of them made it required reading. I’d better read it thoroughly, though, so I can accurately quote it when the next grammar debate ensues.
The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier
This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com, and I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of the paperback book Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.
That's all. Thanks for listening.
1. Strunk, W. Jr. and White, E. B. The Elements of Style. Fourth edition. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000, p. 12.
2. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p. 380.
3. Lutz, G. and Stevenson, D. Grammar Desk Reference. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2005, p. 151.