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.
Between You and Me
Now that you get the subject-pronoun part, we can think about object pronouns, move on to between you and I, and see why it's wrong.
Between is a preposition, just as on, above, over, and of are prepositions. Prepositions do things such as describe relationships or positions in time or space, and they do that by working with other words. For example, you could say the pillow is on the sofa, or the platter is above the refrigerator, or that Liam will stand between Harry and Zayn.
Instead of acting alone, prepositions are part of prepositional phrases. In those example sentences, on the sofa, above the refrigerator, and between Harry and Zayn are prepositional phrases. And it's just a rule that pronouns following prepositions in such phrases are always in the object case. Me is the object pronoun, so if you want to say that Liam will stand between you and me, you use me because it’s the object pronoun. The correct prepositional phrase is always between you and me.
That’s why it’s so sad when (at 1:07 in the video) One Direction sings
Nothing can come between you and I*
Despite their good start with You and I, we don’t want to be like them, they messed up when they got to the preposition between. The line should be
Nothing can come between you and me.
Most people who study language and how it's used are sympathetic to people who say between you and I because it's often considered a hypercorrection. The theory is that people have been so traumatized by being corrected when they say things such as Harry and me went to the mall instead of Harry and I went to the mall that they incorrectly correct between you and me to between you and I.
[Hypercorrection isn't the only theory about why people say between you and I instead of between you and me. For example, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage tells of a theory that between you and I is related to people being told to say It's I instead of It's me and a theory that I sounds "softer, less emphatic, and less egotistical than me." There's also a French connection, which you can read about in this article from linguist Gretchen McCulloch: Why People Mix Up the Pronouns I and Me.)
I’ll keep my fingers crossed that One Direction’s next big hit is called “Between You and Me.”
Brians, P. “I/You/Me.” Common Errors in English. wsu.edu/~brians/errors/myself.html (accessed November 26, 2014).
Garner, B. A. Garner's Modern American Usage, third edition. Oxford University Press. 2009. p. 102.
Gilman, E.W. (ed). Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated: Springfield, MA. 1994. p. 181.
Strumpf, M. and Douglas, A. The Grammar Bible. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004. p. 208.
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