A recent New Yorker cartoon shows a guy lamenting to his friend, “It’s hard being a ‘just between you and me’ person in a ‘just between you and I’ world.” [For copyright reasons, I can’t display it here.] If you’re not sure why that’s funny, you need to keep reading.
We’re exploring subjective, objective, and reflexive pronouns. You may have forgotten the definition of those grammatical terms, but still believe you’re using your pronouns correctly.
“I” is formal; “me” is casual, right? You can use “myself” anywhere it sounds good, right?
Unlike many aspects of the English language that are totally irrational (articles, verbs), the rules for pronoun usage are logical and consistent. Use the subjective pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we, they) as the subject of a sentence, the person or thing doing the action. Use the objective pronouns (me, you, him, her, it, us, them) as the object of a sentence, the person or thing receiving the action.
For example: She (doing the action) gave the book to me(receiving the action). You’d never say, “Her gave the book to I”, or “She gave the book to myself,” right?
Yet a problem often arises when we add other people into the sentence. Suddenly, we start getting sentences like “Her and Bill gave the book to me.” Or “She gave the book to Sally and myself.” Or “She gave the book to Sally and I.
All wrong. Why change the pronoun just because someone else has joined the action? The pronoun is still in the same spot in the sentence.
Use subject pronouns in the subject part of the sentence and object pronouns in the object part of the sentence. No exceptions. When in doubt, take the other person out of the sentence, pick the right pronoun, and put the other person back in. Works every time.
He went to the mall with me.
He went to the mall with Bill and me.
She loves ice cream.
She and her mother love ice cream.
So what about “myself”? That’s a reflexive pronoun, and we use it only to express when the person doing the action is the same as the person receiving the action. For example: John pinched himself (John pinched John). Susan will travel to Paris all by herself (Susan travels with Susan).
It is always wrong to use the reflexive pronoun in place of either the subjective or objective pronoun. “Mary and myself will give the presentation.” NO! “Mary and I will give the presentation.” “The award was presented to Bill, Joe and myself.” NO! “The award was presented to Bill, Joe, and me.”
And why is the cartoon funny? “Between” is a preposition, and we always use the objective pronoun as the object of the preposition. So the expression is always, “just between you and me” NEVER “just between you and I.”