Grammar basics: Putting me first

Some of you have told us that you’d like to see more basic grammar lessons, and we’re happy to oblige. We’ll start this week with something people ask us all the time: when to use I and when to use me.

Most of the time, you don’t have to think about it. You probably don’t say, “Me am going to pick up the dry cleaning.” But what gets tricky for some people is using the first-person pronoun in a list, such as, “She gave the list to José, Patrick and me.”

Some people might write that as, “She gave the list to José, Patrick and I.” You’ve probably guessed by now that’s incorrect. But why?

It has to do with subject and objects in sentences. The subject of a sentence carries out the verb, while verbs act upon objects in a sentence.

To know which version of a pronoun to use in a sentence ("I" vs. "me," for example), you need to determine whether the noun it is replacing is the subject of the sentence or an object in it. Subjects carry out the verb of a sentence, while objects receive the action of the verb. Subject pronouns are I, she, he, they, we and who; object pronouns are me, her, him, them, us and whom. "You" is both an object and subject pronoun. In the sentence, "Vivian gave Grayson the toy," Vivian is the subject, while Grayson is the object of "gave." In a sentence such as, "Kat and I are going," using "I" is correct. But it's not correct in a construction such as, "That works for Kat and I," because "that" is the subject and "Kat and I" are objects. If you're still unsure, try this trick when dealing with multiple objects: Take out the other objects and use only the pronoun; for example, you wouldn't say, "That works for I." So the correct sentence would be: "That works for Kat and me."

So “I” is a subject, whereas “me” stands in for an object. An easy way to check if you should be using “I” or “me” is to try removing the other objects in a list. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly which one is correct. Let’s give it a try!

Example: “Why isn’t he talking to Keyan, Grace and ___?”

Should “I” or “me” go in the blank? Which sounds right: “Why isn’t he talking to I?” or “Why isn’t he talking to me?”

You probably chose “me,” which is correct. So then you just reinsert the other items in the list: “Why isn’t he talking to Keyan, Grace and me?”

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