Is it ‘You and I went to the market’ or ‘You and me went to the market’? Many people stumble on this construction, but there is actually a simple way to determine which to use and a good explanation as to why both can’t be correct.
The technical bits
‘I’ and ‘me’ can’t be used in the same way because they are different types of pronouns. Pronouns are words that replace nouns in a sentence; you might be very familiar with ‘he’/’she’/’they’ as pronouns, but pronouns are any word that stands for a person, a place or a general ‘thing’ (for example: ‘that’, ‘who’ and ‘which’).
There are several different types of pronouns, but we will focus on two here: object pronouns and subject pronouns. To put it simply, object pronouns replace nouns that are not the subject of the sentence; this is the job of subject pronouns. In the sentence
‘John ate the pizza.’
‘John’ is the subject, ‘ate’ is the verb and ‘pizza’ is the object noun (the thing the sentence is about). If we rephrase it to
‘He ate it.’
‘John’, the subject noun, becomes ‘he’, which is a subject pronoun. ‘It’ replaces ‘pizza’, the object noun, so it is an object pronoun.
‘I’ is a subject pronoun while ‘me’ is an object pronoun. If the above sentence was about you, how would you phrase it?
‘I ate the pizza.’ / ‘Me ate the pizza.’
It would be the first one, right? You would be the subject of the sentence, so ‘I’ applies. If you lived in a world where a pizza gained sentience and ate you, then it would be ‘The pizza ate me’ because you would become the object of the sentence, so the object pronoun ‘me’ applies.
The problem with ‘I’ and ‘me’, however, usually crops up in sentences that refer to more than one person.
‘John and I went to the pizza place together.’
This is where you might get confused. Is it ‘John and I’, or ‘John and me’? All you have to do is apply the same rule as if the sentence was just about one person: is the pronoun replacing the subject or the object of the sentence? In this case, ‘I’ is the correct choice, since it is replacing a subject noun.
This might seem simple enough now, but you are bound to get confused again when faced with a different sentence or to forget altogether what ‘object pronouns’ or ‘subject pronouns’ even are if you are not the best at memorising the names for grammatical constructions.
Remember how I said earlier how all you have to do is apply the same rule as if the sentence was only about one person? Well, the quick way to figure out which one to use is to think of the sentence as if it was just about you. If you take John out of the sentence above, how would it be written?
‘I went to the pizza place.’ / ‘Me went to the pizza place.’
When in doubt, forget about the other subject and see what the sentence would look like if it was just about the speaker/narrator. This will help you see if they are the subject or the object of the sentence and quickly figure out if you need ‘I’ or ‘me’.
‘Writing Woes’ is a series of blog posts breaking down common issues writers can come across and explaining the rules behind them in a clear and simple way. Read more posts in the series here.
Sofia Matias is a professional writer, editor and proofreader. She specialises in working with independent authors of Young Adult and genre fiction, publishers and publications. She is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). Learn more about her and her services on her website and connect via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.
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