Sunday, May 18, 2014

I and Me Are Not Interchangeable.

Come with me to the land of instruction. It’s a lonely place—sometimes quite boring. However, I happen to know the rules for when to use me and when to use I. It has to do with subjects and objects. I’m not talking about subjects like peasants in a kingdom or objects like things on a shelf. I happen to be talking lonely, boring grammar, but give me a chance. I might be able to straighten out the confusion of my blog readers without bewildering you or causing you to nod off in a stupor.

Here is the first order of educating the confused. I is always a subject and me is always an object. What does that mean? Well, I’ll start with subjects. Find an action verb in your sentence and ask who or what did the action. The answer will be the subject. “Laura snorted pop out of her nose” (that would be “soda” for almost everyone in the world outside of Michigan). Snorted is the action. Who snorted? Laura. Laura is the subject. If I inserted the pronoun I in place of Laura, I would be the subject, which leads to the question of which would burn my nose the most when snorted, Vernors or Coke? (Vernors is a “pop” that people in Michigan recognize.) If Laura and I both snorted, both Laura and I are what is called a compound subject. Me cannot be a subject, so saying Laura and me snorted or saying Me and Laura snorted is bad grammar. Verbs aren’t always action words, however, so sometimes you’ll have to locate a linking verb—a verb that simply shows a state of being. Am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had, be, or been are quite common. If a sentence said…“Bradley looks like a hairy-eared Hobbit,” looks is a linking verb. There is no action. “Hairy-eared” is just what Bradley is like. It is how he is. It is also how Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are as well, but that is obvious, and this is an amazing set of sentences that have absolutely no action, moving you into that boring grammar zone. Now, I could say I look like a hairy-eared Hobbit, but that would be unlikely because I have a phobia of hair in my ears—just ask my wife. If you asked who or what looks, the answer would be the subject. In a compound construction, Bradley and I both must have unseemly hair growing in our ears. I can’t use me as the subject because me is never a subject.

I was in a store, shopping, and a boy pleaded with his mother. “Will you come with Jimmy and me to the toy department?” I was thinking that I’d go if she wasn’t willing, but she chose not to answer his question. Instead, she determined that it was the appropriate time to give a grammar lesson to her cute little guys. “Jimmy and I,” she said. Though I wanted to tell the lady that her son knew grammar better than she did, I refrained. Instead, I headed for the toy department myself, and low and behold, the boys dragged their mother there as well. I was looking at action figures, the boys were looking at Nerf guns, and the mom was looking at balls. The smart grammar kid said, “Mom, throw Jimmy and me a ball.” Instead of tossing the projectiles, mom decided to teach grammar again. “It’s Jimmy and I,” she said. The grammar kid was now up two on his mommy because in each case, he used me as an object. I cannot be an object.

“Just between You and Me” is a song made famous by April Wine. The band got it right—which is quite unusual I have to admit when analyzing the song lyrics of the majority of music groups—because me is an object in the phrase. There are three kinds of objects in sentences: objects of prepositions, direct objects, and indirect objects. I’ll start with objects of prepositions. Those little words that usually show direction or location, showing the relationship between two people or things in a sentence are prepositions. In, on, at, of, for, with, by, near, between, beside, above, and others are prepositions. They all use objects. “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go” uses river, woods, and house as objects. So now it’s time for a learning example.

“Did you talk to Boog and me at the urinal in the men’s room?” The answer to that question is no because that breaks all standards of protocol in restrooms for males with a sense of decency; however, sometimes we (um…I) forget our (my) roles. Yes, I happened to see Boog Powell, the former major league baseball player (and at the time, current Miller Light beer commercial star), sitting in a first-class seat on an airplane, and I followed him into the airport restroom to “chat” with him. I said, “Are you Boog Powell?” He was busily peeing and staring at the wall as is appropriate while I was two urinals down, being a complete idiot. “Umm hmmm,” he said. Well, that was a better-than-expected response. “I saw you on the plane and was pretty sure it was you,” I continued as he stared at the wall. “Umm hmmm,” he said. He finished, zipped up, and walked out. What was I to do? Shake his hand? Anyway, back to teaching. To is a preposition. Boog and me are objects of the preposition. I cannot be an object, so Boog and I would be incorrect. You know, if you dropped out Boog and, the sentence would say, “Did you talk to me at the urinal.” To I would be a horrible gaffe, wouldn’t it?

On to direct and indirect objects. Here’s another sample sentence. “Did you hear Mike and me singing in the rowboat?” I have to interject. You see, my friend, Mike T., and I were at a lake party in our late teens or early twenties, and we were sitting and rowing in a rowboat we had mostly submerged, singing out, “Roxeanne! You don’t have to put on the red light! Roxeanne! You don’t have to put on the red light!” Why that particular song? I don’t know except that we managed to wail out the lyrics at about the same sound quality as Sting himself. Anyway, hear is a transitive verb. If I say the verb hear and ask “hear what?” the answer is “singing.” Singing is the direct object. I can then say “singing to or by whom?” and the answer is “Mike and me.” Mike and me are the indirect objects. I cannot be an object so it doesn’t work in that sentence. If I said “My readers don’t like me,” me is the direct object. I wouldn’t say “My readers don’t like I.” I also wouldn’t say “My readers don’t like Mike and I.” I cannot be an object.

This problem with me and I really only occurs in a compound construction when there are two subjects or two objects. When it happens, just drop off the other subject or object and say the sentence with just the word me or I and you’ll know what sounds right. By the way, just as saying “with me” or “near me” or “beside me,” you would say “between me.” So saying “This is just between you and I” is wrong. Or saying “He’ll stand with you and I at the Funny Farm” is wrong. The grammar mom in the store? She was dead wrong. The rock band, April Wine? They were dead right, believe it or not. So if you’re still awake and didn’t mind my wild thought tangents, you now know how to tell the difference. Wasn’t it well worth your time?