Many sentences in the English language have a preposition sitting before a pronoun or noun to show its relationship to something else. The pronoun governed by a preposition, or the object of the preposition, must be in the objective case for the sentence to be grammatically sound.
“Between you and I” is grammatically incorrect because the pronoun “I” is subjective, the pronoun “me” is objective, and the word “I” can’t be the object of a preposition. “Between you and me” is the correct way to express the desired sentiment. However, using “you and I” in the objective position as a hypercorrection is fine since it’s acceptable to say a statement, such as, “You and I were invited to the ball.”
If you want to refresh your memory on the rules for prepositional phrases, continue reading the following topics.
What Does “Between You and I” Mean?
The preposition “between” shows two things sharing a connection or two individuals sharing information. When someone uses this prepositional phrase while speaking to another person, they state that the following statement should stay a secret between them (source).
This statement below expresses that the speaker’s opinion is not meant for anybody outside this conversation.
- Between you and I, I don’t think Cole’s painting deserves first place.
The better and more grammatically correct sentence is the following:
- Between you and me, I don’t think Cole’s painting deserves first place.
How Do You Use “Between You and I”?
The most common use for “between you and I” is to share private information with someone else. However, since writers of yore fairly used it, you could also use the phrase to mock formality as a joke.
Let’s look at some examples of “between you and I” in appropriate situations:
You can share your honest opinion on someone or something:
- Between you and I, I think Elizabeth is a bit of a nightmare. Nothing makes her happy.
- Between you and I, I think he’s somewhat disloyal. Don’t believe a word he says.
- Between you and I, I think Jack is cute. I hope he asks me out on a date soon.
You can explain the actions of someone:
- Between you and I, Cheryl spent a year in an asylum after the murder of her husband.
- Yes, James had a traumatic childhood. But, between you and I, he’s really past it.
Mocking the formality of formal language or old English (source):
- Between you and I, this soiree isn’t as marvelous as I predicted.
- Between you and I, Thou art more lovely and more temperate than a summer’s day.
In What Context Can You Use “Between You and I”?
“Between you and I” is a poor choice for written sentences and semiformal or formal contexts. However, it is somewhat acceptable in casual speech or fictional dialogue because “between you and I” is a common hypercorrection.
A hypercorrection is a grammatical error that occurs from an attempt at being grammatically correct (source). For example, many believe “I” sounds more pleasing or formal in specific constructions (especially at the beginning of the sentence), so they substitute “I” for “me.”
Even though they know it’s correct to say, for example, “Between you and me, going to the opera with my grandparents is boring,” they still might say, “Between you and I, going to the opera with my grandparents is boring.”
William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has the most famous incorrect use of “between you and I.” Antonio informs Bassanio in a letter that “All debts are cleared between you and I.” Thus, Shakespeare was not the only English playwright who employed the subjective rather than the objective case in this prepositional phrase.
In his play, The Lying Valet, David Garrick wrote, “Whimsical … and, between you and I, none of the mildest of her sex.” Henry Fielding also used the prepositional phrase in his musical
The Virgin Unmasked in 1791. The statement was, “Between you and I, I think him as odd… a fellow as you can do.”
It wasn’t long before many American men and women wrote “between you and I” in their letters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers, used it occasionally in his correspondence.
When Can You Use “Between You and I”?
Although it is ok to have the hypercorrection slip into casual conservation or dialogue, you should still avoid using it in conversation, writing, and messaging.
Every part of a sentence must be in the correct form to express a complete thought. For example, the objective form is the proper case for a pronoun sitting after a preposition.
For instance, “You and I” is equivalent to the pronoun “we,” while “you and me” is equivalent to the pronoun “us.” Put “we” and “us” as the object of “between” to see the difference. So it would be incorrect to say:
- Between we, I think Steve is a better match for Nancy.
If you start a sentence incorrectly, listeners or readers misunderstand its meaning. The correct sentence is:
- Between us, I think Steve is a better match for Nancy.
Notice how the objective pronoun “us” makes much more sense as the object of the preposition “between.” It follows that the singular objective “me” is also more logical and correct:
- Between you and me, I think Steve is a better match for Nancy.
Therefore, it is always best to use “between you and me” when you want to keep something private.
“Between you and he,” “between you and she,” “between you and we,” and “between you and they are grammatically incorrect.”
You must use “between you and him,” “between you and her,” “between you and us,” and “between you and them” if you want to utilize proper grammar.
For more information on how to use the pronouns, check out Is It Correct to Say “and I” or “and Me”?
When Not to Use “Between You and I”?
Although hypercorrection might be casually acceptable, never use it for academic or business writing, including emails, presentations, and essays.
In business and academic contexts, make your point up front without using complicated jargon or filler words. Keep it simple and polished.
Aside from being grammatically incorrect, “between you and I” is not a concise, polished phrase, so avoid using it in business, academics, and nonfiction writing.
Using “Between You and I” in a Full Sentence
When you use “between you and I,” or its correct form, “between you and me,” in a sentence, ensure it correctly shows the connection.
You can place it in the initial position, which is set off from the base clause by a comma. For example:
- Between you and I, Kacie is not qualified for this job.
- Between you and I, I don’t think I will ever forgive her.
It’s okay to put “between you and I” in the medial position. Commas separate introductory prepositional phrases unless they are very short. For instance:
- This is just between you and I; it is a secret. I am pregnant.
- In fact, between you and I, I’m relieved about the divorce.
You can put it at the end, too:
- Don’t tell this to anyone else – it’s just between you and I.
What Can You Use Instead of “Between You and I”?
If you would like to use something other than “between you and I” or “between you and me,” consider using one of these phrases.
Some better alternatives to clarify that you need to state something confidential in a business email or meeting are:
- In a confidential manner
- This is just between you and me.
- This stays between us.
- This is private business between you and me.
You can also put a disclosure stating, “This email message and/or attachments contain(s) confidential and/or privileged information. It’s solely for the following addressee(s).”
If you want to state a personal opinion in an academic essay, you don’t need to start with “Between you and I.” There are many ways to express your subjective opinion in your academic writing assignments with creative variety. Here is a list:
- In my honest opinion
- In my view
- I assume that
- I presume that
- My conjecture is
Some of the most common stand-in phrases for “between you and me” in casual conversations are:
- Between us
- Between ourselves
- Don’t repeat this
- In strict confidence
People often use phrases like “off the record” or “not for publication” when they want to avoid something officially reported or published by authorities, journalists, or reporters.
- Off the record, I think Amy is not his only victim.
You could even say:
- Between you, me, and the bedpost.
- Between you, me, and the gatepost.
“Between you, me, and the gatepost” is the UK version of “Between you, me, and the bedpost.”
Since we are discussing a famous prepositional phrase, let’s break down what makes up a prepositional phrase and what we use them for. A prepositional phrase is a small group of words containing a preposition and the object of the preposition (source).
A proper prepositional phrase always has one preposition and an object it governs. The object can be a pronoun, noun, noun clause, or gerund.
A gerund is a verb form ending in “-ing” that acts as a noun. The phrase can also include adjectives that modify the noun.
Two primary types of prepositional phrases are adverbial and adjectival. These labels describe what kind of information the prepositional phrase is adding to the sentence.
When a prepositional phrase acts upon a verb, we call it an adverbial prepositional phrase because adverbs modify verbs:
- Our cat Binx jumped up with excitement.
This sentence answers the question, “Jumped how?”
- To find the professor that teaches American Literature, check in her office.
This sentence answers the question, “Look where?”
Adjectives modify nouns. So when a prepositional phrase acts upon a noun, it is called an adjectival prepositional phrase.
- The painting at the end is the best.
This sentence answers the question, “Which painting is the best?”
- Brooklyn wants to stop at the Mexican restaurant by the mall.
This sentence tells us which restaurant Brooklyn wants to stop at.
Aside from prepositional phrases adding adverbial or adjectival information to a sentence, some can act as nouns. This doesn’t happen often, but it is still something you should know.
- Before the movie will be too early for us to go to lunch.
- During the intermission is the best time to talk and get refreshments.
Prepositional Phrase Mistakes
No matter what type of prepositional phrase you use, you should avoid a few mistakes when using prepositional phrases. Here are three incorrect ways to use prepositional phrases in your writing:
Treating Prepositional Phrases as the Subject
For example, it’s incorrect to say, “A bag of chocolate candy were given to the children who attended the birthday party today.”
The subject of the sentence isn’t “chocolate candy.” “Bag” is the subject, so the sentence should be, “A bag of chocolate candy was given to the children who attended the birthday party today.”
Placing Prepositional Phrases Ambiguously
For instance, “Peyton pet his gecko in the tank.” It is difficult to say if “in the tank” is an adverb modifying “gecko” or an adverb modifying “gecko.” However, you could change the sentence to “Peyton pet his gecko in the tank.”
Using Prepositional Phrases Excessively
Your writing will be chunky, choppy, and repetitive if there are too many prepositional phrases. Start cutting them out if you notice one or more prepositional phrases for every ten words.
Many native speakers use common phrases daily without thinking about them. Prepositions in a phrase help express movement, time, and possession. You would find it almost impossible to communicate something without using prepositional phrases.
Here are some common prepositional phrases and idioms:
- As of today
- As per usual
- As you wish
- By the skin of your teeth
- Fish out of water
- In the fast lane
- In the nick of time
- Hang in there
- Hanging over the edge
- On cloud nine
- On a roll
- On the ball
- Over my dead body
- Over the rainbow
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
If you want more information on common prepositional phrases, check out Is It Correct To Say “As Of?”
Although it is more than expected to use “between you and I,” it is still grammatically incorrect. There is no secret that using this prepositional phrase can be tricky. With these helpful tips, you can navigate prepositional phrases more smoothly.