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Which Is Correct: Younger Than Me or Younger Than I?

When making comparisons, it might sound natural to say “younger than me” instead of “younger than I.” If you have read or heard both phrases, you might wonder which one is correct.

“Younger than I” is correct in formal writing. “Younger than me” is considered acceptable colloquially in speech and literature, even though it is not grammatically correct. “Younger than I” is correct because it compares two subjects by using the conjunction “than” and a form of “be” as a linking verb.

Read on to understand the parts of speech that make up the phrase “younger than I” and the grammar that makes this phrase the correct choice over “younger than me.”

What Does “Younger Than I” Mean?

The phrase “younger than I” means the speaker is describing the age of something or someone else relative to his or her own age.

“Younger” is the comparative form of the adjective “young.” We use comparative adjectives when we want to describe two or more things in a way that compares a particular quality that each possesses (source).

“Than” is a conjunction that signifies we are comparing the thing preceding it to the thing (or things) that follow it.

“I” is the first-person singular pronoun in the subjective (or nominative) case. It indicates that the writer is referring to himself or herself without including anyone else.

How Do You Use “Younger Than I”?

Use “younger than I” to compare your age to the age of a younger person, either as a simple statement or as a degree of difference. You can also use “younger than I” to describe periods of change in your own life.

Let’s look at some examples. A simple comparison:

  • My sister is younger than I am.

A degree of difference:

  • My sister is five years younger than I am.

Describing a change:

  • I could run faster when I was younger than I am now.

That last example might sound strange and clunky. Though it is grammatically correct, people don’t talk like that. We will revisit this example further down the page to make it sound more natural.

When Can You Use “Younger Than I”?

You can use “younger than I” when it is helpful to describe a person’s age in comparison to your own instead of describing the characteristic of one person without a comparison.

Some adjectives are objective, which means they describe a person or thing using facts that everyone can agree on.

You might say, “The sky is blue” or “The plate is broken” to describe what you observe about something. In these examples, “blue” and “broken” are objective adjectives that any observer would use to describe the same thing.

Adjectives such as “young,” “old,” “big,” and “small” are subjective adjectives. They mean different things depending on what they describe and who makes the description.

To a kindergarten student, his or her teacher is old. However, if that teacher is the youngest teacher in the school, the other teachers probably describe her as young.

So how do we know if the teacher is old or young? This is where comparative adjectives are helpful.

“Younger than I” is a handy comparative phrase because we know our own age. So by using an objective piece of data and a comparative adjective, we add factual objectivity to an otherwise subjective perception.

If someone says, “The kindergarten teacher is young,” you and the speaker might not have the same perception of her age. Likewise, if you and the speaker are from different generations, you probably don’t call that same person “young.”

If the speaker instead says, “The kindergarten teacher is younger than I am,” you can place the teacher’s age in a narrower range, provided you have some information about the speaker’s approximate age.

In What Context Can You Use “Younger Than I”?

You can use “younger than I” in writing and speech. Always use it in formal and semi-formal writing. In casual speech and non-academic literature, the grammatically incorrect phrase “younger than me” is acceptable and has become increasingly common.

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Let’s go back to our simple example:

  • My sister is younger than I am.

In all likelihood, this statement is part of a casual conversation. In this case, you might find that saying “younger than me” sounds more natural than “younger than I.” In an informal setting, this is common. Let’s expand the dialogue to demonstrate:

  • Friend: “Your sister is as tall as you.”
  • You: “Would you believe that she is younger than me?”

The direct comparison between two people or things is the most common context. Now, let’s look at an indirect comparison that describes two different people at two different points in time.

  • He is younger than I was when we graduated.

Here, the speaker is comparing the subject’s present condition to his or her own past condition. You might use a comparison such as this to highlight another individual’s advanced skill.

Without saying it, the speaker implies that the person’s achievement exceeds the expectation for someone of a similar age by using his or her own age to associate the accomplishment with older age.

Another less common context for comparative phrases is when you want to compare reality to your perception or expectation.

  • You are younger than I expected based on your work experience.

Here, the subject is not younger than the speaker but younger than the speaker assumed he or she would be.

Using “Younger Than I” in a Full Sentence

To use “younger than I” in a complete sentence, use the person or object you are comparing as the subject. Next, use the appropriate form of the verb “be” as a linking verb to connect the subject to the adjective “younger.” Finally, you will add another clause to your thought with some comparisons.

Let’s return to our simple example:

  • My sister is younger than I.

In this example, we added the subject “my sister” and the linking verb “be” to form a complete sentence.

Another way to write this sentence is:

  • My sister is younger than I am.

Both examples are correct, but the second rendering is more common. In spoken English, ending a sentence with “I” sometimes sounds unnatural (we will discuss why this is further down the page), so speakers often include the word “am” to make the sentence sound complete (source).

In the first example, you are implying “am” even though you did not include it in the sentence. English grammar allows a speaker or writer to omit repeated occurrences of the same verb in the same sentence. Because “is” and “am” are both forms of the verb “be,” you may omit “am” in this example.

When we make a comparison between two different times or progressions, we add another clause to our sentence, as in this example:

  • He is younger than I was when I graduated.

Here, we are comparing the subject’s present condition to the speaker’s past condition. We complete this comparison by using the linking verb “was” to introduce the nature of the comparison.

We are using two forms of the verb “be” (“is” and “was”), but we cannot omit the second one because they appear in different tenses. If we omit “was,” we will end up with an awkward-sounding sentence while also changing the meaning since the implied verb would be in the present tense.

When Not to Use “Younger Than I”

As discussed above, “younger than I” is grammatically correct, while “younger than me” is not. However, its common usage in casual conversation makes “younger than me” acceptable and even preferred at times.

How do we know when “younger than me” is acceptable speech? First, remember that it is not grammatically correct, so you should always choose “younger than I” for formal writing.

In casual conversation, you may use “younger than me” as long as the phrase is at the end of your sentence without any modifiers. Let’s reexamine two of our examples, using “me” instead of “I.”

  • My sister is younger than me.
  • He is younger than me when I graduated.

The first example sounds natural and represents how people normally talk. In English, we usually place the subject at the beginning of a sentence and the object at the end of a sentence, so “me” sounds natural here.

Because “younger than me” sounds so natural, you probably encounter comparatives that use “than me” daily. You hear your friends and family talk this way. You hear it in movies and television. You even read “than me” in non-academic literature and poetry.

In the second example, “me” replaces “I was.” This makes the sentence harder to understand and awkward to hear. The sentence refers to a past graduation but does not include the past-tense verb “was,” so an essential aspect of its meaning is missing.

We can’t fix this by adding “was” after “me” because “me was” is never grammatically correct, and it never sounds natural. This is why you can only use “younger than me” at the end of a sentence, even in informal communication.

Let’s look at another awkward example from earlier.

  • I could run faster when I was younger than I am now.

This sounds unusual because it uses redundant and unnecessary words. If we omit “than” and everything that follows, we end up with “I could run faster when I was younger,” which sounds more natural. Because the same pronoun “I” is on either side of the conjunction “than,” you may omit the second occurrence.

What Can You Use Instead of “Younger Than I”?

You do not have many ways to express the same meaning that “younger than I” conveys. “Younger than me” is an acceptable substitute when context and formality allow it.

The rules for forming and using comparative adjectives prevent us from modifying other words in the phrase. The conjunction “than” has no substitute in English. When forming comparatives, you add the suffix “-er” to the root adjective. So the comparative form of “young” is always “younger,” never “more young.”

There is a situation when you can invert your subject and object and select a different adjective. For example, we often use comparatives to describe an unknown quantity relative to a known quantity.

When you say, “My sister is younger than I,” the hearer probably knows your approximate age. You are using what the hearer knows (your age) to describe new information (your sister’s age). What if the hearer knows your sister’s age but not yours? In that situation, you might say, “I am older than my sister.”

The two sentences state the same facts but present them in different ways to accommodate the hearer’s assumed knowledge.

Subjective vs. Objective Pronoun Case

The pronouns “I” and “me” are both first-person singular pronouns that refer to the speaker or writer, but they are in different cases and have different grammatical functions.

You use the subjective case to identify the person or thing doing the action or functioning as the subject of a stative verb in the sentence. In our example, “I” is the subjective pronoun.

To describe the recipient of the action in a sentence, you use objective case pronouns. In our example, “me” is in the objective case.

“Younger than I” is correct because “than” is a conjunction joining two clauses that contain a subject and a stative verb (source). Each clause requires a noun in the subjective case.

When we say “younger than me,” it sounds natural because we incorrectly interpret “than” as a preposition, which would require that we use the objective pronoun. However, when we add a form of “be” after the phrase, as we did in our examples above, it is easy to see why we need to use the subjective pronoun case after the conjunction “than.”

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The see other examples of the difference between subjective and objective pronouns, read our articles “Is It Correct to Say “That Is Him”?” and “Is It Correct to Say “Between You and I”?

Final Thoughts

It is not always effortless to choose the proper pronoun for a phrase, especially when the incorrect choice sounds right. However, when we think about the different parts of speech that make up the phrase “younger than I” and understand the relationship between conjoined clauses, it becomes much easier to make the grammatically correct choice.