Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Me, Myself, and – I’s?

I first heard it on a snippet from reality TV.  A woman with cover model looks said something about “Sean and I’s relationship.”  A month later, I attended a condo board meeting and a board member said, “John and I’s work on this took a long time.”  Talking about themselves challenges many people when it comes to grammar (in particular, “me,” “myself,” and “I” are often misused), but I still wasn’t sure it warranted a blog post.  Then I received an email from a businessperson that ended with:  “If you have concerns, please bring them to Susan’s or I’s attention.” 

I blame grade school teachers.   (Not you, Miss Hall, you were great.)  My sixth grade gym teacher, of all people, drummed into every student’s head that a sentence should never begin with “Joan and me” or, worse yet, “Me and Joan….”   Similarly, the vice president of marketing I worked for in my first full time job learned in business school never to say “I” or “me” in a business letter.  These types of dictates have led many people to fear the word “me.”  As a result, they say or write “I” or “myself” when “me” is actually proper.  And now the fear of “me” and all its variations has led to something worse – use of the non-word “I’s” in place of “my.”

In the hope of making it easier for people to talk and write about themselves, though admittedly there are some who need no encouragement to do so, I prepared some simple guidelines.

(1) At least one thing grade school teachers preach is correct.  The other person’s name comes first, so “me and Joan” is always wrong.  Think of it as being polite and letting your friend, colleague, or even adversary walk through the door first. 

(2) An easy way to sort out “me” versus “I” is to remove “and Joan” and listen to the sentence.  “I went to the store” sounds – and is – correct (because “I” is the subject of the sentence – the one who acts).  “Me went to the store” is and sounds incorrect.  (“Me” is proper only where “me” is the object of the sentence – the person acted upon.)  Grammar doesn’t change just because Joan goes with me to the store.   Accordingly, “I went to the store,” becomes “Joan and I went to the store,” not “Joan and me went to the store.”

(3) But what about “Joan and me?”  As before, drop “Joan and” and see how the sentence sounds.  “The store manager gave me free donuts” sounds correct (and is correct, because "me" is the object of the store manager's action), while “the store manager gave I free donuts” sounds wrong.  Accordingly, the store manager “gave Joan and me free donuts,” but he didn’t give “Joan and I free donuts.”  Similarly, I would say “please talk to me about your grammar questions,” not “please talk to I,” if I want you to contact me with your questions.  So, if I’d like to include Joan, I should say, “please talk to Joan and me about your grammar questions” (unless Joan, like many people, really hates discussing grammar). 

(4) Sometimes it’s all about you, and there is no other person involved.  The easiest way to decide whether to use “me,” “I,” or “myself” is to consider how the sentence would sound if you were talking about someone else.  For instance, consider the following sentences about Bill, the billing administrator:  “Bill has been handling the billing.  Please contact himself with questions.” “Bill has been handling the billing.  Please contact he with questions.”   Without knowing the rules, most of us simply know those sentences are wrong, and that the correct phrasing is as follows:  “Bill has been handling the billing.  Please contact him with questions.”  This formulation doesn’t change if I am the billing administrator.  The correct sentences in those circumstances are as follows:  “I have been handling the billing.  Please contact me with any questions.”   To say “contact myself” or “contact I” in that instance would be just as incorrect as saying “please contact himself” or “he” when Bill was the billing administrator.

(5) So when is “myself” proper?  Rarely.  That’s because – and this is the official rule – words with “self,” such as myself, himself, herself, and yourself, are reflexive pronouns.  Reflexive means the subject (the person acting) and the object (the person being acted upon) in the sentence must match.  This rule is the same no matter what the verb.   The best way to understand this is to remember that I can help myself, talk to myself, or challenge myself, but I cannot help yourself, talk to yourself, or challenge yourself, only you can do that.  That’s why asking someone else to “please contact myself” requests the impossible.  Only I can contact myself, everyone else can only contact “me.”

(6) Which brings me (not myself) to the impetus for this post -- the growing use of “I’s.”  The rule here is easy – “I’s” is wrong.  “I’s” is not a word.  But possessives can be tricky, especially when more than one person is being talked about.   As with “Joan and me” versus “Joan and I,” for the possessive, again try removing “and Joan.”  You would never say, “I’m taking I’s car to the shop,” you would say, “I’m taking my car to the shop.”  If you’re taking Joan’s car, you would say, “I’m taking Joan’s car to the shop.”  So, if you are taking a car you and Joan own together:  “I’m taking Joan’s and my car to the shop.”  If you are taking two cars, one that belongs to you and one that belongs to Joan, “car” becomes “cars,” but all else stays the same:  “I’m taking Joan’s and my cars to the shop.”  (For reality show viewers, for this reason, while “Sean’s and my” relationship could be going well if I were on The Bachelor and looked like a cover model, “Sean and I’s” could not.)

Questions?  Please feel free to contact me.

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and author of Amazon occult bestseller THE AWAKENING, short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles.  She is currently working on the sequel to THE AWAKENING.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly

Check out THE AWAKENING on Amazon:  http://amzn.to/pFCcN6


  1. This is a great post. Informative and extremely funny. The post is timely as well because I can't tell you how many times I've heard people, even those who presumably are better educated than the folks that go on the Bachelor, use I's, which actually makes me want to vomit when I hear it.

  2. Excellent article! A real pet peeve of myself (I mean mine!).

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Really interesting post, sad that you needed to write it. On this subject one thing that reslly grates my teeth is the phrase "I Myself" as in "I myself completed the report to the CEO". Does the speaker think that "I myself" emphasises his point? Does think the response to this should "You did ALL this yourself?"

    1. I agree, "I myself" can be annoying. I had a similar reaction years ago when a politician's wife wrote a novel and the press release said, "She wrote it herself." And I thought, hm, should I be impressed? I assumed it meant she wrote it without a ghostwriter, but so do most novelists, without getting kudos for it.