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Just Between You and Me

Between you and me or between you and I? A single One Direction song, "You and I," can help us understand pronouns and see how people get this simple prepositional phrase wrong.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #444

Today, we’re going to talk about the pronouns I and me and the phrase between you and me. In their song “You and I,” One Direction gets the first part right and the second part wrong just a few lines apart.

Here’s the early line (at 0:57 in the video):

You and I, we don’t want to be like them.

It may sound a little grammatically weird because with the You and I followed by a pause and then we, they’re doing a double-subject thing I talked about in a previous show, but that’s OK, and they get the “you and I” part right, which is what we’re talking about today.

You, I, and Me are Pronouns

First the basics: The words you, I, and me are all pronouns. They stand in for nouns such as Zayn, Liam, and Harry.

Pronouns can be subjects or objects (or possessive, but we won’t talk about that today because it’s not relevant here). 

Here’s a simple way to think about it: 

  • The subject of a sentence is doing something. (It is the agent taking action.)
  • The object is the thing or person being acted on. 

If I say, “I love Louis,” I am the subject (the one doing the loving). If I say “Louis loves you,” you are the object (the target of Louis’ love and the object of his affection).

[This article about active voice has a more advanced discussion of subjects and objects.]

Subject and Object Pronouns

To figure out the “between you and me” part, you need to know that I is a subject pronoun, and me is an object pronoun.

The proper sentence is I love Niall, not Me love Niall. You use I because the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, and I is the subject pronoun. If you've been speaking English your whole life, your ears quickly pick up the difference between right and wrong: I play the guitar not Me play the guitar.

The reason it gets tricky when you combine I and me with you is that you is both a subject and object pronoun. In other words, you use the word you whether it is in the subject position or the object position. You love Zayn and Zayn loves you. They are both correct.

You and I Versus You and Me

When One Direction sings You and I don’t want to be like them, the pronouns you and I are both in the subject position. When the pronouns you and I are together, it’s called a compound subject, but you can also see that they’re both subjects by breaking it apart into I don’t want to be like them, and You don’t want to be like them

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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