A question from Adinath:
I have doubts about two words which are commonly used. They are 'I' and 'me'. Can you tell me when I should use 'I' and when I should use 'me'?
'I' or 'me'?
Susan Fearn answers:
Well this question about the difference between 'I' and 'me' is a really good one, because you know, speakers of English as a first language are sometimes confused about this too.
So, let's start with the grammar rule.
Both I and me are what we call 'pronouns' - those are words that we use in place of nouns - and I'll give you some examples:
Mary asked a question
But if the speaker is actually Mary, she'd say:
I asked a question
Mary asked Susan a question
But if I'm the person speaking:
Mary asked me a question
So that's 'I' and 'me'.
So what's the difference there between 'I' and 'me'?
I asked a question.
Mary asked me a question.
Are you ready for a few more grammar terms?
Well 'I' is what's known as a 'subject pronoun' - a subject pronoun takes the place of the main noun in a sentence - here, the actor, the person who's doing the action.
Here's another example:
I'm answering a question
More subject pronouns are 'you', 'he', 'she', 'it', 'we' and 'they'...
He's listening to the radio
They're watching TV
...and so on. So that's 'I'.
'Me', on the other hand, is what we call an 'object pronoun'. It usually replaces a second actor - the supporting actor if you like - the one who is having something done to them...
Adinath sent me a question
Other object pronouns are 'you', 'her', 'him', 'it', 'us' and 'them'...
I gave him an answer.
I gave her an answer.
I sent them a free BBC pen.
So far, so good. But the difficulties start when you get two of these pronouns together. And here's a little test for you:
When the British Queen, Elizabeth, gives speeches, she often refers to herself and her husband - the Duke of Edinburgh. So which of these sentences might she say? Listen - is it:
a) "My husband and me thank you for the gift"
b) "My husband and I thank you for the gift"?
Well, the grammar book would say the answer was b) - My husband and I because both those people are the main actors in the sentence and so we need two subject pronouns.
Here's another example:
You and I really need to study English grammar.
Now, earlier on I said that native speakers of English sometimes have problems with this. You'll hear people say "you and me":
You and me need to study more
Because there are two subjects, they get confused and they treat the second one as an object. The Queen would be horrified!
Now here's another test - and this time it's about object pronouns. Which of these sentences would the grammar book say is correct?
a) "The Queen has invited you and me to tea"
b) "The Queen has invited you and I to tea" ?
The answer is a) - The Queen has invited you and me to tea. That's because 'you and me' are in the second or object position; 'you' and 'me' are the supporting actors.
And here's another example:
Can you pass the cakes to Adinath and me, please? Thanks.
Again, native speakers sometimes get mixed up with this too. And for some reason, there's a bit of a mistaken belief that 'you and I' in the object position sounds a bit 'posh' -
"The Queen has invited you and I to tea darling. Isn't that wonderful?"
I wouldn't advise saying that - it sounds a bit silly, really! And in linguistics there's a word for this - when people don't follow a grammatical rule because they think, often wrongly, that it makes them sound superior... It's called 'hyper-correction'.
So, Adinath, there's your answer. The difference between 'I' and 'me' is that:
'I' is a subject pronoun and
'me' is an object pronoun.
Susan Fearn has taught English in Europe, Japan and China and has made programmes for BBC Learning English in the past. She is currently teaching English for Journalism and Public Relations at the University of Westminster in London.
Audio - Download the answer (mp3 - 1.4 mb)
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