Shakespeare wrote, “All debts are cleared between you and I.” It is a lovely sentiment, but, unfortunately, it is also grammatically incorrect, as he should have said, “between you and me.” The use of “I” and “me,” especially when used in these phrases, can seem very similar, but they are definitely very different and we cannot use them interchangeably.
“You and I” and “you and me” are both correct and acceptable constructions in English. However, “I” is a subject pronoun, while “me” is an object pronoun. This means that we can only use “You and I” as the subject of a sentence, and we can only use “you and me” as the object.
Even though there is a very definite rule regarding when we can use which one, many often confuse these two constructions and use them interchangeably. Let’s take a closer look at the difference and how we can easily test when to use which one.
When to Use “You and I” or “You and Me”
Even if we know a rule backward and forward, we can often make mistakes while talking. It happens to the best of us because knowing the rule and always applying it correctly are two different things. There are some “cheats” to help you when you are in a bind.
Before or after the Verb
One way to figure out which pronoun to use is to determine if it comes before or after the verb. In English, we usually place a verb’s subject before it, and the object usually goes after it.
The same will be true for the subject or object pronoun. For this example, we will use purple for the subject and green for the object.
Let’s go back to an earlier sentence:
Jane accidentally kicked Thomas.
Jane, the subject, is before the verb, kicked. Thomas, the object, is after the verb, so we say:
She accidentally kicked him.
The same is true for this sentence:
You and I drove to New York.
The subject pronouns “You” and “I” come before the verb, but in the next sentence, the pronouns come after the verb, and they are the objects:
Tim visited you and me in New York.
This, however, can be a very misleading test because there are times when you will have to use the object pronouns before a verb. We’ll discuss this situation in greater detail later on in this article.
Remove the Second Person
Another good test is to remove the second person from the phrase, so you are just left with either “I” and “me.”
When you have the single object pronoun in the sentence, it is much easier to see that the one will be correct and the other one will be wrong. Let’s use the previous sentences:
You and I drove to New York. (correct) You and me drove to New York. (incorrect)
you and I in New York (incorrect)
you and me in New York. (correct)
We will obviously never say, “Me drove to New York.” For this reason, you also shouldn’t say, “You and me drove to New York.” The correct expression will be the one where the standalone pronoun also makes sense, in this case, “You and I drove to New York.”
Beware the Preposition
As we said earlier, if a pronoun comes before the verb, it is often the case that it is the subject pronoun that must be used. However, prepositions can create some confusion, especially when it is one of the first words in a sentence.
We can use prepositions to link nouns, pronouns, and phrases in a sentence, and it usually indicates some type of relationship between the words it connects.
Some of the simplest prepositions we have are those indicating a physical relationship, “The cat is on the box,” movement, “I am walking to the store,” and place and time, “I will be at the store on Friday” (source).
That which comes after the preposition is the object of the preposition. For this reason, if a pronoun is used after the preposition, it must be an object pronoun. “Between” and “besides,” for example, are also prepositions and can be placed at the beginning of a sentence:
Between you and me, I really don’t like Sally.
Besides you and me, I don’t know who else will be there.
In both cases, if we were to follow the “before or after the verb” rule, we would use the incorrect pronoun.
Both come before the verb, but they do not use the subject pronoun because they are not the actual subjects of a verb — they are the objects of a preposition.
Correct preposition usage can be difficult to understand at first, but it is simple enough to learn if you understand some key differences, such as the difference between the phrase “appreciation of” or “appreciation for.”
A Word about the Phrase, “I and You”
It is quite commonplace to hear or read pronoun mistakes in books and movies that have been carefully written, checked, and edited to near perfection.
Sometimes people will say, “Me and my friends are going to a party.” This is technically incorrect, although used fairly often.
Not only is the object pronoun used rather than the subject, but the first-person pronoun (me) is used first.
The Wrong Pronoun
The mistake of using the wrong pronoun can be made for several different reasons. Some people are never taught how to apply the rules for choosing which one, and they simply imitate what other people say, regardless of whether it is correct or not.
Some start by using the incorrect one, as above, then they receive correction, and someone says, “It’s ‘my friends and I,’ not ‘me and my friends.’”
The person then thinks they should always use “I” in such a construction rather than being taught the difference between the subject and object.
These are just two examples of how mistakes can creep into language, and in everyday conversation, these mistakes can become acceptable.
Most of the time, English speakers won’t mind if people make such a mistake. However, it is always better to learn what the correct usage is.
The Wrong Order
The exact order of the pronouns is not necessarily governed by a strict rule but, rather, the convention of 2,3,1. In other words, we refer to the second person first, then the third, and then the first.
This is why we say “you and I” rather than “I and you.” “You” is the second person, and “I” is the first. We could also say, “you, he, and I” — second, third, first.
A Word About Pronouns
Before we can delve into the difference between the constructions, we have to take a closer look at their building blocks, i.e., the words we use in the phrases. In other words, we need to take a look at pronouns, what they are, why we have them, and how we use them.
What Are Pronouns and Why Do We Have Them?
In the most simple terms, a pronoun is a word that we would use in the place of a noun or other pronouns. Let’s say Helen is talking to a friend, Tim, and telling him about a party she went to. Her other friends, Mary and James, also attended the party.
The names Helen, Tim, Mary, and James are all proper nouns used to name the different people in this situation (source).
So, in the conversation with Tim, Helen might communicate the following:
Helen: Hi Tim. Helen didn’t see Tim at the party last night.
Tim: No, Tim had to work. Mary and James were there, right?
Helen: Yes, Helen, Mary, and James had a good time, but Mary wasn’t feeling well, and James told Mary that James would take Mary home. James and Mary left early, and Helen didn’t leave long after James and Mary did.
The information here is fine and understandable, but we would not talk or write like this at all. Instead of using all the names over and over, we use pronouns in their place, so the conversation would rather look like this:
Helen: Hi Tim. I didn’t see you at the party last night.
Tim: No, I had to work. Mary and James were there, right?
Helen: Yes, we had a nice time, but Mary wasn’t feeling well, and James told her that he would take her home. They left early, and I didn’t leave long after they did.
How to Use Pronouns
There are different types of pronouns that we use for different reasons. For example, we use a demonstrative pronoun to indicate a specific noun or nouns that might be far or near in distance or time, including “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.”
Those in the conversation above are the most important to our “you and I” and “you and me” problem and are part of a group of personal pronouns. We use them to refer to a specific object or person and change according to gender, number, and case (source).
The table below provides an overview of personal pronouns:
|Usually an object
Replacing the Subject and Object
Now that we have the pronouns, it is equally important to know where to use them. Consider the following sentence:
Jane accidentally kicked Thomas.
The word “kicked” is the verb in that sentence. The person doing the verb, Jane, is the subject, and the person to whom the verb is being done, Thomas, is the object.
If we replace the names with pronouns, we have to replace them with the corresponding case.
In other words:
She accidentally kicked him. (correct)
Her accidentally kicked he. (incorrect)
The exact same thing must happen when using the phrase “you and I” and “you and me.” Let’s look at our earlier example of Helen and Tim’s conversation, where Helen told him about the party where Mary and James left early.
Mary might have told James, “We should go.” However, the pronoun “we” can mean any number of people. To be more specific, she said, “You and I should go.”
In that sentence, she refers to herself and James as the subjects of the verb; therefore, she uses the subject pronouns “you” and “I.”
If Helen asked James for a lift home from that party rather than driving herself, she could have told Mary the following: “James is going to drive you and me home.”
Rather than just using “us” because it can also refer to any number of people, Helen specifies that it is the two of them. They are the objects in that sentence, and, therefore, we use the object pronouns “you” and “me.”
We can use almost any combination of pronouns in this manner except for using “we and I” as subject pronouns and “us and me” as object pronouns together because “we” and “us” already indicates that you include yourself in the group, so adding “I” or “me” is not necessary.
Below are some example sentences of different pronoun combinations. We probably would not use some of these sentences in everyday speech, but it shows the construction:
|May they and I work together?
|May we work together?
|(S)he and I can carry the box for you.
|We can carry the box for you.
|My friends and I went to a party.
|We went to a party.
|Mom watched the dog and me play.
|Mom watched us play.
|She likes him and me.
|She likes us.
|Did he scare you and her?
|Did he scare you? The “you” here is plural. To indicate this, native speakers sometimes add the colloquial term “guys” — Did he scare you guys?
There is a definite rule of when to use “you and I” versus “you and me.” “You and I” is the subject pronoun of a sentence, while “you and me” is the object pronoun. There are also a few handy tricks that you can use to ensure that you use them correctly.
Although mistakes are often made with the usage of these pronouns in informal conversation, it is important to get them right in written and oral tests because, if you don’t, it will cost you marks.