With so many common phrases in English, it’s sometimes difficult to know which are grammatically correct and in which casual conversation context you can use them. The phrase “between you and me” is one example you may hear when someone hopes to keep a secret.
It is correct to use “between you and me,” but it is not a complete sentence. “Between you and me” is a prepositional phrase, the preposition being “between.” It is an expression you can use to suggest what you are about to say should be held in confidence or kept a secret from others.
To learn more about this phrase, its meaning, and how to use it correctly, continue reading.
What Does “Between You and Me” Mean?
The idiomatic phrase “between you and me” means you do not want anyone else to know what you are about to say (source). It also indicates that you do not want the listener to repeat what you are saying to anyone else. In other words, it is a secret between the speaker and the listener.
The phrase is also an idiom because you interpret it figuratively, not literally. Remember that an idiom is an expression with a particular meaning within a culture different from the meaning of each independent word in the phrase (source).
So, this particular idiom represents information you should not repeat or tell anyone else and should keep strictly confidential. You are not holding something tangible between you and another person, as the dictionary definition of the preposition “between,” a separation of two objects or ideas, suggests.
A simple example to better understand the meaning of this phrase would be if you went to see a movie with a friend who loved the film and was raving to a larger group about how good it was. If perhaps, you felt differently, you might share privately with another friend or your partner, “Between you and me, I didn’t like the movie very much.”
You might use this phrase because you may not want to hurt your friend’s feelings, or you may simply feel uncomfortable admitting you did not like the film, given your friend seemed to think it was terrific.
How Do You Use “Between You and Me”?
You can use the phrase “between you and me” as an introduction to a longer, complete, or complex thought. You can also use it at the end of a sentence, even in the middle, though you’ll mostly see it at the beginning or end. Remember that it is a phrase, so it cannot stand alone without additional information.
The main idea to remember is that whatever you are communicating is to be kept private. It is information that you would prefer the listener not share with anyone else.
And you also need to be sure that your sentence is complete. For example, because “between you and me” is an introductory phrase, you should ensure that you use commas to separate it from the remaining part of your sentence, regardless of where you put it.
Using it as an introductory phrase, you’ll need a comma after “me.” Here’s an example:
- Between you and me, I thought the movie was a bit boring.
If you are using the phrase at the end of your sentence, you’ll need a comma directly preceding the words, like this:
- I thought the movie was a bit boring, between you and me.
Finally, though less common, you can also use the phrase as an “interrupting phrase” to interrupt the greater flow of your sentence. In this case, your sentence will be more complex with more information or detail.
You’ll need to wrap the phrase in commas, too. Here’s an example:
- The movie was boring, between you and me, because the plot was not engaging.
In this final example, you can see that the speaker explains his or her reasoning for feeling that the movie was boring by adding more detail after the phrase, “between you and me.”
Is it Correct to Say “Between You and I”?
You may have wondered if you can interchange “me” and “I” with this phrase. Unfortunately, the answer is no; you cannot. Therefore, it is incorrect to say “between you and I.”
You may have heard others use “I” instead of “me” with this phrase, but that is not grammatically correct. While the term is an idiom, it is also a prepositional phrase with the preposition “between,” which requires an object or objective pronoun, such as me, not a subjective pronoun like “I” (source).
Pronouns that follow prepositional phrases like this one should always be object pronouns since they are the object of the preposition instead of the subject. Remember that the object pronoun receives the action instead of doing it – so, in the case of “between you and me,” “me” is the person receiving the information versus the person or subject speaking.
Interestingly, there is a lot of controversy over these two phrases, but regardless, only one is correct in modern-day English: “between you and me.”
Despite examples and appearances of “between you and I” in letters and prose from the 18th and 19th centuries, William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice being a prime example, today it is considered archaic, and you should avoid it in your writing (source).
When Can You Use “Between You and Me”?
You can use the phrase “between you and me” any time you intend something to be kept secret and not told to anyone else. You will often use this phrase and other similar phrases in casual, private conversation, as it is not particularly appropriate in formal contexts.
For the most part, you’ll use the phrase before communicating what you intend to keep secret. That is the most common way to help your listener understand that you are about to say something you’d prefer to stay between the two of you.
Remember that if you prefer to keep the information confidential, you should not use “between you and me” in large groups. So, you may pull someone aside to use the term or do so only when there are no others around who may overhear you, as they may feel hurt or excluded from your conversation.
Often, you’ll use the phrase when you disagree with someone else’s perspective or opinion on a matter, such as preferences over entertainment, how good a particular meal may have been, or even someone’s choice in a partner or a promotion.
In What Context Do You Use “Between You and Me”?
There are various contexts where “between you and me” is fitting, particularly with a close friend to whom you can speak confidentially. Or perhaps you can use it with a co-worker when discussing work contexts.
Remember, though, that when you use this phrase, you are intentionally leaving others out or communicating that you intend for the information you are sharing to be secretive. So, if there is any doubt that the person may feel uncomfortable or not want to be part of a confidential situation, it is best to avoid using it.
Still, there are examples where it is appropriate and makes sense. For example, perhaps you overheard that your boss is going to promote a co-worker that you feel hasn’t pulled their weight – in other words, you think others are more deserving of a pay raise or promotion.
You may want to share your feelings with a friend or co-worker in confidence. Here’s an example scenario:
“I overheard Pam telling Joe he is up for a promotion to shift supervisor. Between you and me, I’m not sure he’s the best fit for the job.”
In this context, the person you are speaking to likely agrees. If you suspect that the person you are talking to would disagree, you should probably avoid sharing your feelings with that person.
However, if you are sure that the person you are speaking to will agree with your sentiment, it’s perfectly appropriate to discuss the situation.
Another scenario would be if you went to dinner and your friends were raving about their meal, but you felt yours was mediocre at best. If that is the case, you may say privately to another or your partner, “Between you and me, I didn’t think the food was very good.”
Using “Between You and Me” in a Full Sentence
Remember that “between you and me” is not a complete thought, so you must use it as part of a complete sentence. You can use it at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.
Below you’ll find more examples and scenarios in which you can use “between you and me” as part of a complete sentence.
- Between you and me, I found the service at the diner lacking.
- I didn’t understand why she received an “A” on her paper between you and me.
- Between you and me, I would prefer ice cream over birthday cake.
- I don’t think she deserved a pay raise between you and me.
Remember that in each of the above scenarios, you are sharing secretive information, whether you simply don’t want anyone else to know your opinion or you worry that another person may feel hurt or uncomfortable with your assertion.
If you use the phrase in the middle of your sentence, don’t forget to wrap it in commas. Here are a couple more examples:
- I’d prefer dark chocolate over milk, between you and me, because it is healthier.
- I wish she promoted Ron, between you and me, because he’s been here longer.
Notice that after the phrase, the speaker provides more information or explanation for the prior statement.
When Not to Use “Between You and Me”
You should not use “between you and me” in formal contexts or formal writing. Rather, it is best suited for casual conversation among friends or close acquaintances where you are not concerned about offending someone else.
Because “between you and me” is meant for situations in which you are keeping something secretive, it doesn’t work well in any formal situation or formal writing.
You should also be careful not to use it in contexts where others may overhear you or in situations where you are uncertain if the person you speak with would be comfortable with the information you share.
And while you technically can use the phrase in informal writing, such as an email, you should avoid doing so. Others can easily share this type of written communication, so to ensure confidentiality, you should only use it in speaking.
Finally, unless you are writing dialogue for a story, there is no place for this phrase in formal writing, essay writing, or research. This is because these types of writing are objective, not subjective or opinion-based.
What Can You Use Instead of “Between You and Me”?
There are some synonymous phrases and words you can use in place of “between you and me,” such as “just between the two of us,” “off the record,” or “behind closed doors.” These phrases are also idiomatic and meant figuratively rather than literally.
Below are a few more options you can use instead of “between you and me.”
- Confidentially speaking
- Between us
- Between ourselves
- In confidence
Prepositional Phrases and Common Phrases
There are many common phrases you’ll hear in everyday English, some of which are idiomatic and many of which are prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases consist of at least one preposition and one object.
Remember that a preposition is a word whose purpose is to tell where or when something relates to another idea or indicates time, location, special relationship, direction, or any other abstract relationship.
If you remember, a prepositional phrase isn’t much different. Rather than a single word, it is a group of words. It contains the object of the preposition or who or what receives the action.
Sometimes, other words modify the object, like when adverbial phrases modify verbs. An example would be a sentence showing “how” something occurred, such as:
- The little girl jumped over the branches into the leaves.
This is an adverbial prepositional phrase because it answers “how” something happened and contains the prepositions “over” and “into.”
Similarly, there are adjectival prepositional phrases where the phrase modifies a noun. For example, the following sentence contains the preposition “at” to describe which vegetables are the best.
- For example, “The vegetables at the farmers market are the best.”
Not all common phrases are prepositional phrases, but many are. As you learn more and begin to speak English more fluently, you’ll often hear many of these phrases in conversation.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
If you’d like to learn more idiomatic prepositional phrases in English, read ”Is It Correct to Say “By the Way”? and Is It Correct to Say, “According to Me”?
“Between you and me” is a normal phrase, so you’ll likely hear it repeatedly. Remember that when you use this phrase, you intend for the listener to keep the information you share in confidence.
And likewise, if someone uses this phrase when conversing with you, remember that they would prefer you keep what they share in confidence.