Her and I

I have seen so many mistakes of this kind lately, in three or four different published novels plus several student papers. Probably this is a confirmation bias sort of thing — probably I’ve been sensitized recently so that these errors are leaping out at me more vividly and memorably than usual — but this is a common mistake in both writing and casual conversation. Since I’ve noticed it over and over in the past week or two, I thought I would take time to address it.

“You should vote for Samantha and I for class presidents!”

“That movie was terrifying — it really scared my mother and I!”

“That class is driving students to distraction, including my brother and I.”

In every case, the “I” should be “me” because the pronoun is part of the object of the sentence, not part of the subject. Those faint memories of teachers insisting on the “My mother and I” format are memories of compound subjects — or result from your teacher being clueless about grammar, though I hope that wasn’t the case.

Subjects are he, she, I, and we.

Objects are him, her, me, and us.

If you weren’t using a compound object, the mistake would be blazingly obvious, like so:

“You should vote for I for class president.”

“That movie was terrifying — it really scared I.”

“That class is driving students to distraction, including I.”

You see? Absolutely, obviously wrong. The quick and easy way to check, therefore, is to take the other person out of the sentence and see if you still want to use “I.” If not, then you should use “me” — even when you include the other person.

If this is something you can’t yet do reliably by feel, then I suggest you do a global search for “and I” and check every single usage in your manuscript.

A related error is this:

“Please keep that secret between you and I.”

Between is a preposition. You wouldn’t say to someone, “My brother was born two years after I.” When a pronoun comes after a preposition or is used as part of a prepositional phrase, it’s objective.

The correct version is: “Please keep that secret between you and me.”

“Between you and I” is so common that probably you can get away with it. Which is to say, as a writer, you can get away with it in dialogue when the character is speaking casually, but not when your character is an English professor or someone who normally speaks in a formal manner. Grayson Lanning, for example, would never say “between you and I.” If your character is supposed to be a pedant or formal, then you as the author need to be able to put formally correct phrases into that character’s mouth in order to encourage reader buy-in.

Similarly, you can get away with more errors in a novel that is written in an informal, light style than in high fantasy.

So when you see a discussion about grammar that says, Oh, whatever, it doesn’t matter, most people accept “between you and I,” you need to understand that in your life as an author, this just isn’t true. Your understanding of what is formally correct matters a lot because it increases the range of characters you can write believably and the overall range of styles in which you can write.

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9 thoughts on “Her and I”

  1. Does this relate to the misuses of the ‘self’ pronouns I’ve been seeing in the past year or so? Constructions like ‘it’ll be hard on myself’ or the like. In professionally published books.
    I wince every time.

  2. In my opinion, yes. I think most likely people who aren’t sure about the I/me distinction are throwing “myself” into sentences instead, thus generating a different mistake.

    I’m assuming that when you see this in traditionally published books, the author steted the mistake (and shouldn’t have). Otherwise I’d have to assume the copy editor is totally incompetent, which I know can be the case, but I’ve never run into that myself.

    In case anyone is interested, here’s a quick check for whether to use “myself” — is “I” or “me” already in the same exact sentence, earlier? Then maybe. Otherwise, no.

  3. This doesn’t fit with your suggested aid, but it cries out as wrong: The Teen just read a bit out loud to me from something with the error-

    “everyone got food poisoning, even myself.”

    I’m afraid I’ve been tending to blame copyeditors, especially when it’s a writer I’ve never seen make that mistake before.

  4. I think it does fit, but maybe I wasn’t clear.

    “everyone got food poisoning, even myself.”

    Neither the word “I” nor the word “me” appears in the sentence prior to “myself.” Therefore, “myself” should not be in there. Therefore the writer needs to decide whether to put “I” or “me” in the sentence instead of “myself.”

    This is a fun example, because technically the correct form would be “Everyone got food poisoning; even I (did).”

    But I think practically everyone would actually say “Everyone got food poisoning, even me.”

  5. In the long ago, it used to be the other way around: me would stand in for I in colloquial language. Reversing the problem doesn’t help.

  6. Oh, and one more thing: what’s the publication date for Shadow Twin? I remember “March 2018”.

  7. This is something I always warn people criticizing stories about: there are rules, and these are the rules.

    The writers may break them for effect, but you have to get them right when criticizing.

  8. what’s the publication date for Shadow Twin? I remember “March 2018”.

    This coming Monday, March 26th — and thanks for asking!

  9. Yes, there’s nothing more embarrassing than making a grammatical error when criticizing someone else’s grammar. I think there’s some cosmic rule that makes it more likely that you’ll put “it’s” when you mean “its” for the first and only time in your entire life while you’re criticizing some similarly basic error in someone else’s work.

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