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Between You and Not I

Why 'you and me' is just as proper as 'you and I'

Twins looking evil
Evil Twins Always Know

Social media has made it terribly easy for us to create versions of ourselves as we’d like to be seen. We self-edit, sharing our best bits and implying even better. But this is nothing new. In the days before tweets, posts, grams, tiks or toks, we had airs and graces.

One popular way to put on airs and graces was to always be “speaking proper”.

I can’t be sure whether the irony in this phrase’s grammar was clear to every parent using it. Proper is an adjective. Adjectives describe nouns, not verbs. Speaking is a verb. As such, it should be modified by the adverb, ‘properly’.

No matter.

Up and down the country, little people associated these words with a hollow thud. Mum or Dad would give a swipe to the back of the head as they drummed politeness into their offspring. “Speak proper” said that the language which was fine to use at home was to be corrected when in polite company.

“Dunno”, I reply to Aunty Winnie’s questions about my 8-year-old self’s career plans.

“Speak proper.” Thud.

“Ta for the lolly”, I say to the kindly dentist for the post check-up lollipop. (More irony.)

“Speak proper.” Thud.

To speak proper was to sound posh. Well, not exactly posh. More wannabe middle-class. Like the family down the road. The ones with the clean net curtains.

The long-form ‘us’

In our house, such admonishment was guaranteed when talking about us.

More specifically, when talking about you, him, my friend Paul, Dad, or my sister… and me.

This would at once be semi-echoed by, for example, “my sister and |”. The echo was my mother’s voice. The bold and underline could be clearly heard in her tone.

And so we stood corrected. We never thought to ask why I was better than me. The echo followed me through childhood. I would add it myself when Mother wasn’t around.

What we learn through this sort of repetitive (mis)teaching leads us to hypercorrect. Today, we remember the rule and the punishment for non-adherence. Accepting it as hard fact, we automatically replace …and me with …and I. Always. We rarely give it a second thought.

Only it turns out I wasn’t always right. Me was just as correct too.

And me or and I?

‘…and me’ is the appropriate grammar just as often as ‘…and I’.

It all depends on context.

All pronouns have both an object and a subject form. When the pronoun is doing the doing, it is the subject of the sentence. When the doing is being done to, or by, the pronoun, it’s the object.