Me, Myself and I

These three little words are all pronouns which can be used to refer to yourself. But they are not interchangable. They are not three variations of the same thing which can be used according only to how posh/hip/formal you want to sound. And yet that is how they are increasingly used. Listen to TV and film dialogue; you’d think some writers had never been to school at all.

The worst offenders are ‘me’ and ‘I’. You’ll often hear people using them in an attempt to sound either more educated than they are (when they’ll use ‘I’) or more informal and laid back (‘me’).

For example:

Me and Phil went to the park. (Sounds cool, yeah?)

or

The police accused Phil and I of vandalism in the park. (Sounds really superior and indignant, OK?)

Both are wrong.

‘I’ should be used when the pronoun is the SUBJECT of the verb. In the first sentence, the verb is ‘to go’ (went). You and Phil are the subject of the sentence – you went to the park. So it should, literally, be ‘I and Phil went to the park’ – or, less clumsily, ‘Phil and I went to the park’.

‘Me’ is used when the pronoun is the OBJECT of the verb. In the second sentence, you and Phil were accused; that is, the verb happened to you. So it should be ‘The police accused Phil and me of vandalism in the park.’

If all this sounds a bit technical, there is a very easy way the determine whether you’ve used the right pronoun. Simply remove the additional noun (in these examples ‘Phil’) and see if the sentence makes sense. For example, leaving Phil on the sidelines, the first sentence would read: ‘Me went to the park’, which is clearly wrong. The second would read ‘The police accused I of vandalism in the park.’ Again, nonsense.

Using ‘me’ might not sound very formal; using ‘I’ might make you sound posh. But get them right and at least you won’t sound thick.

So what about ‘myself’?

The use of the reflexive pronoun seems to have gained currency recently as politicians and their ilk use it to make themselves sound superior. They are terrified of the lowly ‘me’ (which it almost always replaces). There is one simple rule for ‘myself’. Don’t use it except where you are both the subject and the object of a sentence: ‘I talked myself out of going to the park with Phil’. (There are a few other exceptions, but generally reflexive pronouns are best kept only for special-effect value.)

Of course, we play with language in our writing. There’s nothing wrong with getting all this wrong when writing character dialogue… provided such errors are in character. For example, an Oxford Professor of English would not say ‘The Dean cooked dinner for Professor Jones and I.’ That would be stupid!

 

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