IKEA and pronouns

What is wrong with me? Not me personally, but “me” the pronoun? Where did we get the idea that “I” is better than “me”? “Me” is a perfectly fine pronoun.

I’m fired up about the pronoun issue because I just heard the IKEA dorm commercial. IKEA, I love you, and I’m thrilled that you are opening a store in Nashville. But let’s use pronouns correctly.

In the commercial, a mother narrates a video of her daughter in her college dorm. A boy enters the room, and they both sit on the bed. The mother says: “You never told your dad and I about any . . .” I cringe and really don’t care what the daughter and the boy do.
Even though I criticize IKEA, this pronoun issue is very common. The misuse is usually an effort to sound right or to hypercorrect, not to make grammarians cringe.

Dictionary.com defines hypercorrection like this:

the substitution, in an inappropriate context, of a pronunciation, grammatical form, or usage thought by the speaker or writer to be appropriate, resulting usually from overgeneralizing in an effort to replace seemingly incorrect forms with correct ones, as the substitution of between you and I for between you and me, by analogy with you and I as the subject of a sentence.

We all are guilty of hypercorrection at times because we want to be correct, to sound smart. At least with respect to the use of “me” and “I,” revisiting the rules can help. Otherwise, hypercorrection can make you look hyperwrong.

Pronouns come in three cases: subjective, objective, and possessive. A subjective pronoun is one that is used as a subject. Subjective pronouns include I, he, she, and they. Objective pronouns are used as objects, not subject. Objective pronouns include me, him, her, and them. Possessive pronouns are for another day.

When searching for the correct pronoun to be the subject of a sentence, we use a subjective pronoun, not an objective one. “I am a lawyer,” not “Me am a lawyer.” “I told my mother,” not “Me told my mother.”

The use of pronouns as the object should be just as easy. If the pronoun is not the subject, then it (usually) is the object. In the sentence “I told my mother,” “I” is correct because that is the subject of the sentence. “Mother” is the object of what is being done in the sentence; that is, “Mother’ is the person being told. So if you want to substitute “Mother” with a pronoun, you should use the objective pronoun. “I told her.” “I told she” is not correct.

Now to the IKEA commercial. “You never told your dad and I.” What is the subject? “You” is the subject, a pronoun that can be objective or subjective, so that is correct. Now to the next pronoun, “I.” The phrase “your dad and I” is the object of what was not told; hence, you need an objective pronoun, not a subjective one. So it should be “You never told your dad and me.” Play with the sentence. Would you say “You never told I” or “You never told he” or “You never told they,” or “You never told we”? I hope not.

Some people think that correct grammar is or should be intuitive based on hearing correct grammar every day. But we are flooded with bad grammar (e.g., some television commercials!) so our intuition may get mixed up. So what to do? When in doubt, play with the sentence. While “You never told your dad and I” might momentarily sound correct, test yourself by substituting another pronoun. Another option is to avoid the problem altogether by not using pronouns. “You never told your mother and father.” If you are speaking or writing to a group of self-righteous hypercorrecters, that may be the best move.

That is all from me (not I) today.

Author: legalresearchandwriting

For twenty years, I have provided legal research and writing services to lawyers around the country. Big cases and small cases.

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