Wyn Drabble: Me, myself and I as one on this grammar schooling

By Wyn Drabble -
Wyn Drabble
Wyn Drabble

I'm taking a big risk this week. In peril of boring the readership, I am going to give a grammar lesson.

But I won't be using the academic approach. I won't use silly terms like subjunctive, gerund, past participle and disfrunctive arthropod.

My lesson will be on the difference between "I" and "me" and the correct use of each.

This is in response to a texter to the newspaper. I hope it will be helpful.

E wrote, "I have a quibble with Mr Drabble regarding 'my wife and me'. I think 'my wife and I' is the correct way of saying it. After all, if 'Queenie' refers to 'my husband and I', it must be correct, mustn't it?"

What E (I hope I'm not being too familiar here) missed out was the word which I offered before "my".

That word was "from". It makes a world of difference.

Queenie, bless her pastel cotton frocks, would indeed say "My husband and I" but only if those words were the subject of the verb.

She would never commit the grammatical boo-boo "from I".

Sorry, I have used two grammatical terms there. I promise to continue in layman's language.

Queenie might open an address with, "My husband and I are delighted to be here". All good, all by the book.

She might, however, close her address with, "So, warmest thanks from Dukie and me".

Still correct. "I" has changed to "me" here because it is serving a different function in the sentence.

Or, to use a metaphor, the handbag is on the other arm.

Without going into lofty grammatical explanation, let me make a simple comparison.

I'm sure that, in the following sentence, E would use "I". "John and I were given lollies."

How about if we change the order? "Sam gave lollies to John and . . . ?" Of course, the correct form is "me".

The simplest way to explain it (without using the term "disfrunctive arthropod") is to leave out the other person.

Would you ever say, "Sam gave lollies to I"? I hope not. If you would, do not even bother reading on.

Of course you would say, "Sam gave lollies to me". Adding John into the equation does not alter things. It's still "me".

So, in essence, my non-grammatical explanation is simply to drop the other person out of the sentence for a moment and test which form ("I" or "me") you would use. Pretty easy, really.

Once, in a public-speaking situation, I was required to read out a letter from a dignitary. The last sentence of it ended with "from (name of wife) and I".

I went through considerable mental debate.

Should I inform the dignitary of the error? Should I read it out verbatim?

Should I read it out verbatim and add the word "sic"? Should I take the huge liberty of changing "I" to "me"?

I'm not going to reveal which option I took. It's all history now.

So, E, I hope I have explained this clearly for you and hope that you can see that leaving out the word "from" in your text made a lot of difference.

You are not alone in this; it is a widespread misunderstanding.

So widespread is it that one day grammar authorities will declare "from I" and "to I" to be acceptable because it's common usage that changes language.

When that happens, I will still resist.

So, for now, it's thanks from other grammar police and me.

Footnote: Alert readers will be aware that "disfrunctive arthropod" is not actually a grammatical term. It is only used in the field of mathematics, where it means "a planet which suckles its young".

• Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

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