I have listened to two podcasts that discuss the misuse if “I” and “me,” but no mention of another misuse that I hear a lot. I hear people substitute “yourself” for “you,” “myself” for “I,” etc. I hear highly educated people make this mistake, and even when reading from prepared speeches..
Frankly, I didn’t know the rule until I read it in Ann Landers or Dear Abby years ago. As she pointed out the “-self” version should only be used when the “self-less” version is used earlier in the same sentence. Some time this ought to be discussed on a show.
Generally true, but there are some constructs where myself and yourself are the right choice. Rather than spell out the “rules,” check out this website:
and you’ll see the pattern.
The correct answer to #7 is “me” because each clause of the sentence has to stand on its own. The original compound sentence breaks down to:
1. I am tall. (can’t argue with that)
2. John is taller than me. (also fine)
The difference is that “me” is used an indirect object, whereas “I” is used as a direct object.
Your suggested rewriting as “I am tall, but John is taller.” also works just fine. There again, “I” is a direct object.
Google Ngram reports overwhelming uses of the subject over the object:
than I, than me (be sure to capitalize I )
than he, than him
than she, than her
than we, than us
than they, than them
Obviously this simplistic application of Ngram cannot distinguish where the object is obviously correct:
She likes my brother more than me. (=than she likes me)
nor where the subject is where it should not be.
I continue to disagree with the Received Opinion on this one; I maintain that “taller than I” and “taller than me” are both correct. Here’s why:
There are comparative prepositions that can compare either verbs phrases or nouns. In “I told you that before he arrived”, “before” compares two predicates, “I told” and “he arrived”. But in “He is before me”, “before” compares two nouns (or in this case pronouns).
“Than” is like that; it can compare both nouns and verb phrases. In the sentence “Fred answered faster than I did”, “faster than” compares two verb phrases, “Fred thought” and “I did”. If you say “Fred is smarter than me”, it compares two nouns.
In all cases, a preposition that has a pronoun as its object uses the objective case: “before me”, “after me”, “than me” and so one. So why is it also correct to say “than I” (which would be anathema in a sentence such as “It’s just a matter for you and I”)? It’s because any time you can say “Fred is smarter than me”, you can equally well say “Fred is smarter than I am” and then omit the repeated verb. “Fred thought faster than I [did]”; “Fred is taller than I [am]”; and so on.
Now, I can think of prepositions that compare only nouns, never verbs, and some that can do both. But I can’t think of any that compare only verbs, never nouns. The authorities tell us, in effect, that “than” is a preposition that can be only adverbial—that is, that it can compare only verb phrases, never nouns. I say they’re mistaken.
Bob Bridges said …If you say “Fred is smarter than me”, it compares two nouns.
The problem with that is the lack of parallelism. To restore it, one puts ‘I’ back in, and ends up with ‘Fred is smarter than I’ = ‘Fred is smarter than I am’
Your prior example, ‘He is before me,’ presents no such problem if it’s meant to be read as a pair of subject and object interacting, same as in ‘He is standing before me.’
But if it is meant to be a comparison between 2 nouns, then parallelism should be in there: ‘He is before I’ = ‘He is before I am’
I just don’t get it. I don’t see why parallelism is required here, nor why it’s violated by my examples. And I don’t think I’ve read your post correctly, either, because it sounds like you’re arguing contrary to yourself: You say “He is before me” presents no problem if “he” and “me” are subject and object, and in the next sentence that it should be “He is before I am” if they’re two nouns. I’m sure you meant something by that, but I’m stuck in my misunderstanding.
That same sentence can be read 2 different ways: in the first the subject is acting on the object, a most common syntax; in the other, because meant to be a comparison, the 2 things need to be of the same type, subjects both or objects both (He-I or him-me).
Parallelism is a matter of choice- nothing really is wrong with comparing apple and orange. But for clarity the 2 words compared should be of the same type.
I’m still working on it. I’ve always been told that the verb “to be” is unique (well, unusual) in that it doesn’t take an object but links two subjects. If that’s, Fred isn’tacting on the predicate, it is the predicate. Actually I’m a little doubtful about that rule; it seems to me that in a sentence such as “Math is an adventure”, the two terms are not interchangeable. But even accepting my doubts, I don’t see how I can admit that Fred is acting on “taller than me”.
But I do see (now) why you bring up parallelism here. I’m going to argue that in this case it’s misapplied. In the sentence “Fred is me”, you can argue that grammatically it must be “Fred is I” (he-I or him-me). But my sentence is “Fred is taller than me”, and I’m saying that “me” is properly the object not of the verb “is” but of the preposition “than”.
My thesis here is that you can use “than” when contrasting nouns or verb phrases. When contrasting nouns, “than” takes the predicate noun as its object:
Fred is smarter than my dog.
Fred is smarter than a tree stump.
Fred is smarter than me.
But you can also use “than” with verb phrases:
Fred is smarter than anyone should be.
Fred is smarter than mere book-reading could make him.
Fred is smarter than I am.
What I am not arguing is that “Fred is smarter than I” is wrong. It’s just short for “Fred is smarter than I am”. You can drop a repeated verb like that:
You wouldn’t say that any more than I would [say that].
You can do that as well as I [can [do that]].
You’re much smarter than I [am].
Bob Bridges said When contrasting nouns, “than” takes the predicate noun as its object
If that is an assertion of fact, it allows no argument. But if it is a statement of making the choice between a subject and an object, the question is why object? when you have the choice to have both entities as subjects- orange to orange.
The choice of subject/object (i.e. being mindful of parallelism) is not trivial: see how it can make for different meanings:
She likes my brother more than me (=than she likes me)
She likes my brother more than I (=than I like my brother)
And that’s true even with some of the simplest statements above, provided some context:
Though desperate to put almost anyone on the job, Fred is smarter than me.
Are you going to read it as ‘Fred, the boss, is not going to put me on the job because I do not qualify’?
Yes, you should, because parallelism helps to deduce ‘put me’ from ‘put almost anyone.’ By the same token, if you want to read it the other way, you must substitute the subject: Fred is smarter than I.
Subject and object pronouns are not the only options. One could argue for use of the disjunctive aka. tonic aka. emphatic pronoun me.
And ambiguity is no evidence of bad grammar. If you use a noun rather than a pronoun, subject and object distinctions disappear from the form, but the sentence is completely grammatical in both uses.
e.g. Sally likes my brother more than John.
This is a perfectly constructed sentence whether context makes it clear that John likes my brother, or Sally likes John.
There is a previous discussion on the matter of disjunctives: Older than me / I
Glenn said ambiguity is no evidence of bad grammar
e.g. Sally likes my brother more than John.
So grammar is not sufficient for clarity– all the more reason to choose words precisely, such as regarding subjects and objects. Where a choice is not possible as with the example above, a little extra work is needed:
Sally likes my brother more than John him.
Sally likes my brother more than she John.
The emphatic pronoun seems deserving its own discussion though, because it does not go with conjunction or preposition like we’ve been discussing:
Most fail, me, I will succeed.
Me Tarzan you Jane.
Well, Robert, I don’t think I’m going to end up persuaded, but I have to admit you’ve made me think about it. Of your two examples, one set me back a bit.
Not this one:
Though desperate to put almost anyone on the job, Fred is smarter than me.
I agree that the sentence can be taken in a number of ways, but I don’t see that “me” and “I” determine the meaning or provide extra clarity. I see what you’re saying, that “me” should be matched with “almost anyone” but “I” with “Fred”—at least I think that’s what you meant—but I don’t think it’s true: Whether Fred is smarter than me or smarter than I am, it’s always Fred I’m being contrasted with in that clause.
On the other hand, this one made me stop to reconsider:
She likes my brother more than I/me.
I have to accept your argument here: “…more than I” absolutely means “…more than I like my brother”, and consequently “…more than me” almost has to be taken to mean “…more than she likes me”.
So do I have to change my mind about my previous argument? I may eventually, but so far I don’t think the two examples pertain to each other. In your sentence I can be paired with either the subject or the object of the previous clause, with “She” or with “my brother”. But in my test sentence, “Fred is smarter than me”, there is no object, only the subject.
By the way, while I’m being quarrelsome, I like your example “Most fail; me, I will succeed”. But I don’t think “Me Tarzan, you Jane” is an example of the emphatic pronoun (I never knew what that was called before), or as Glenn calls it the “tonic” pronoun. That’s just Lord Greystoke not knowing how English pronouns work. Maybe the script writer was thinking this happened after D’Arnot taught him spoken French; in his mind Tarzan was thinking “Tu es Jane; moi, je suis Tarzan”.
Nah, more likely the script writer never heard of D’Arnot. 🙂
Bob Bridges, I like and agree with your answer and discussion!
Re: an earlier point, someone said that “me” would be a direct object, and “I” an indirect object in the phrase in question. “I” would be a predicate nominative; “Is,” on its own, does not introduce an object, either direct or indirect. I would say, objectively, that the only possible object in the phrase is prepositional (the “me” that could be), not direct or indirect.
“I” regards “than” as a conjunction; “me” says it’s a preposition. I think the verb, “is,” implies conjunction. On the other hand, one can end a sentence with a preposition, but not a conjunction, as in “I am someone my brother is taller than.” I object to neither pronoun in the usage under discussion.
The Columbia Guide to Standard American English says, “Than is both a subordinating conjunction, as in She is wiser than I am, and a preposition, as in She is wiser than me…. Since the following verb am is often dropped or “understood,” we regularly hear than I and than me. Some commentators believe that the conjunction is currently more frequent than the preposition, but both are unquestionably Standard.” I more often hear, “than me;” but I agree with the argument.
“Myself,” though, in the place of either, would drive me into a blind fury.
Docshiva said: “‘Myself,’ though, in the place of either, would drive me into a blind fury.”
Yep, I hear people use the “self version” of pronouns so often that I think almost nobody realizes when it’s correct. Really bugs me — like when any word that ends in an “s” is considered a plural — politics, economics, olympics.
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