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A Word Please: Grammar issue for my friend and me

March 16, 2012|By June Casagrande

Some people love it when you correct their grammar. Those people are easy to identify. They're the folks who say, "Yes, please correct my grammar. I love that."

Pretty much everyone else alive — or who has ever lived — hates it. And because the latter group outweighs the former by something like 100 to 0, it's just a bad idea to point out people's language mistakes.

Of course, there are exceptions. Unsolicited corrections can be fine, coming from teachers or parents, or anyone looking for an excuse to prove his mettle in a prison yard. But the rest of us, I firmly believe, need to keep our editorial editorializing to ourselves.

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So, normally, whenever I hear a friend say something like "My parents invited Tom and I," my best judgment tells me to keep my yap shut. But when a friend said that last week, I found myself in an awkward position.

For one thing, this friend is much better educated and much better read than I. But that's not what caused my inner turmoil. The conflict arose from the fact that I'm teaching this friend copy editing.

Oh, and here's another complicating factor: My little policy about not correcting people's grammar — well, I don't follow it as much as I should. In recent years, long before my friend asked to learn copy editing, I had already told her several times that it's more grammatical in that context to say "Tom and me," not "Tom and I."

Here's why: Contrary to a popular perception that "and I" is always better than "and me," it actually depends on how it's used. Whenever the compound is the subject of a clause, then you want I. For example: Tom and I enjoy pizza. In this sentence, the Tom and I are performing the action: enjoying. So this compound is the subject.

But in my friend's sentence, which began "my parents invited," the parents are the subject of the verb. The object is what comes next: "Tom and me."

The concept of subjects and objects are much easier than they sound. If you know instinctively that "Me went to the movies" and "Kiss I, you fool" are wrong, then you already get the concept. I, you, he, she, we, it and they are subject pronouns. Me, you, him, her, us, it and them are object pronouns.

Adding "Tom and" may confuse some people, but it doesn't change anything. You still use a subject pronoun like "I" if it's working together with "Tom and" as a subject. You still use an object pronoun like "me" if it's the object of a transitive verb or the object of a preposition.

And note that because "between" is a preposition, it's always "between you and me" and never "between you and I."

An easy litmus test is to just drop "Tom and." My parents invited I? Or my parents invited me?

Or you could plug in "we" and "us" to see how they sound. My parents invited we? Or my parents invited us? Because "us" is clearly right, and because it's an object pronoun, you know that only an object pronoun like "us" or "me" can work here.

Some experts argue that using "Tom and I" as an object is an acceptable idiomatic choice. But it's just a darn shame when someone does this because they think "My parents invited Tom and me" is wrong. And this is what was running through my mind when my friend made the error.

So, did I manage to hold my tongue, keeping a tight lid on this virtual volcano of invaluable wisdom? What do you think?

JUNE CASAGRANDE is author of "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences." She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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