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He and I, me and him

I know that the proper order for a nominative series of nouns including the speaker is “John and I,” but what about for the objective? “Mrs. Smith taught me and John,” or, “Mrs. Smith taught John and me”? The same goes for prepositions, “Mrs. Smith taught chemistry to me and John,” vs. “Mrs. Smith taught chemistry to John and me.”

Also, does whether one uses the objective pronoun or the reflexive pronoun affect the order? “I taught John and myself,” vs, “I taught myself and John.”

  • July 22, 2010
  • Posted by alant
  • Filed in Style

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noria January 24, 2014, 11:18am

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It took you a hell of a long time to work out I was British; I thought 'maths' and my British spelling would have given that away a long time ago. I'll ignore your little dig at the end; I've got sort of used to expecting things like that.

I'm not sure where I said that I encourage my students to 'embrace informality'. Although it is true that Polish students sometimes do learn rather formal language and Polish itself can be a somewhat formal language. But I don't know how many times I have to repeat this. I'm not some weird radical island. I don't teach any differently from the rest of my colleagues, and in any case we mainly follow course books. So your argument is not simply with me, but with the whole of the ESL/EFL industry.

Of course I don't teach people to speak incorrectly, but I do teach them to speak appropriately. The problem with the traditionalist grammar approach is that it often only recognises formal forms as correct. For example I was using a grammar book today which had these two sentences, and the students had to say which was correct, or if both were correct, what was the difference?

'Claire is so arrogant - she always thinks she is better than I.'
'Claire is so arrogant - she always thinks she is better than me.'

In TEFL we recognise both those sentences as correct, the difference being one of formality. Some traditionalists, however, would only recognise the first as correct, even though very few people would actually utter such a sentence. The same would go for these pairs:

To whom should I give this book?
Who should I give this book to?

No, it is we who should thank you.
No, it is us who should thank you.

Who did that? - It was I.
Who did that? - It was me.

She doesn't like his smoking in the house.
She doesn't like him smoking in the house.

As to what elitists say or think, you're never going to satisfy them anyway; I'm much more concerned with what my students' normal business contacts think, and most modern business people use relatively informal language. And as Professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum has said -'informal is normal' - it is formal language that is the exception, and I'm afraid I simply don't accept your idea that only formal language is correct. What I'm interested in as a teacher is:

1) Is something grammatical - for example 'The dog me bit' is patently ungrammatical. You know that instinctively, but a low level foreign learner might not. That construction is perfectly possible in Polish for example, and is probably standard in German.

2) Is it Standard English? Many perfectly well-educated people in Northern England use 'were' for 3rd person singular, for example, but it's not Standard English, so we would mark it as wrong.

3) Is it suitable for the occasion and natural English? - 'Hi Mum, it is I' may be grammatically correct, but unless you're an upper-class toff, is totally unsuited to talking to your mum, and hardly any native speaker would say that.

I have a responsibility to my students to make sure they don't sound like idiots. You wouldn't go to a formal ball in Bermuda shorts, but neither would you go to the beach in a tux. It's the same with language - it's horses for courses.

Grammar, in my book, is simply the system we use to make words and put them together so we can communicate. People were speaking grammatically correct English for about eight hundred years before the first grammar books appeared, and native-speaker children form grammatically perfect sentences long before they ever have a grammar lesson. The more you read about the history of grammar, the more you discover that many of what are now taken to be golden rules are often relatively new, and equally often based on one person's whim.

Grammatically 'correct' as I understand it is what most educated speakers of Standard English accept as OK, or as linguists put it, is 'well formed', not the spoutings of self-appointed 'experts' or language mavens.

Warsaw Will September 18, 2013, 5:31pm

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@Warsaw Will, you continue to cite examples of where people exercise their mediocrity in using improper grammar. You explain that you encourage your students to embrace informality (speaking incorrectly) to 'fit in?' I believe that teaching an 'English as a second language student' to speak incorrectly only allows/encourages elitists to become prejudice against said student.. When a culture accepts mediocrity as a norm, Empires are lost.
You further say, . . .wait a minute. . . .. London, Yorkshire, British youth culture?? You are British? Oh, my apologies; I understand now. Please, carry on.

grammerhack September 18, 2013, 1:03pm

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@Warsaw Will, you continue to cite examples of where people exercise their mediocrity in using improper grammar. You explain that you encourage your students to embrace informality (speaking incorrectly) to 'fit in?' I believe that teaching an 'English as a second language student' to speak incorrectly only allows/encourages elitists to become prejudice against said student.. When a culture accepts mediocrity as a norm, Empires are lost.
You further say, . . .wait a minute. . . .. London, Yorkshire, British youth culture?? You are British? Oh, my apologies; I understand now. Please, carry on.

grammerhack September 18, 2013, 1:03pm

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Just spotted in a piece by David Baddiel at the Guardian:

"Three years ago, me and my brother Ivor made a short film for Kick Racism Out of Football called The Y-Word ..."

Warsaw Will September 18, 2013, 7:41am

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@grammarhack - perhaps I'm too old to have recognised that as hip-hop talk, and as hip-hop came out of black culture, not surprisingly it owes a lot to that culture, just as jive-talk came out of black jazz culture in the 50s. In any case I wasn't accusing you of being racist, although I might have been hinting at a certain stereotyping. I apologise if I jumped to any conclusions, but AAVE has come in for a lot of (ignorant) stick on these pages.

Whatever you call it - 'But instead I be writing informally as it be more friendly. Me and yo now sees eye to eyes' is not informal Standard English. Just as 'I done it yesterday, didn't I?' (London) or 'We was in t'pub where t'beer were nowt to write home about' (Yorkshire) or 'it's well wicked, innit?' (British youth culture) are, (although the last one is perhaps borderline).

The important thing to recognise about the use of dialect is that it has nothing to do with laziness. Dialects have their own rules; they're just different from those of Standard English, that's all. More about what is and what isn't Standard English in the first document listed here:

The term informal English is simply used by linguists and ESF/EFL teachers to mean normal spoken English, as opposed to the more formal varieties of written English. Perhaps I should have clarified that 'Me and Dave are going to the pub' is very informal, but it is undoubtedly still Standard English.

But back to can and may, there's a one word answer - context, just as we do with words that have more than one meaning all the time. Just as we use context to differentiate between the two main meanings of may:

It may rain this afternoon.
You may get down from the table now.
I am just going outside and may be some time. (attr Laurence Oates)
May I just say what a fascinating discussion this has been.

'As you have made them acceptable to be used as synonyms' - well as I've already pointed out, that's not exactly what I said, but if it's true, you flatter my powers of influence:

Interesting that the change is even more marked in your variety of English than mine.

Your kids can rest easy, by the way, I teach foreign adult learners, for whom it is very important to recognise the differences between formal and informal, what is appropriate where, when and with whom (See, even I can get formal when I want to). And I don't know why you continue to insist on making this a personal attack; I'm very much in the mainstream. Interesting that you use the word 'assert' in your last sentence, as much of what you have been saying is just that, pure assertion.

Warsaw Will September 18, 2013, 7:04am

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@Warsaw Will, Now you are calling me a racist?! My new informal writing is that of the hip-hop culture and not that of the African American. And hip-hop is inclusive of all races. So you think I crossed a line from informal to using a dialect? But to become a dialect doesn't the language need to be used by many many people. And by your definition, doesn't the amount of people that use words in a certain way make it 'modern' and 'informal' and acceptable? You confuse me. You never seem to answer my questions directly. For example you never told me what I should do when I need to use 'may' and 'can' specifically. As you have made them acceptable to be used as synonyms, how can I expect anyone to understand me when I use 'may' specifically to ask permission. Or, how do I know if someone will understand me when I use 'can' in reference to one's ability? I just don't get it. You seem to think it is acceptable to 'dumb down' the world.. . as long as it is popular. God help us all if you are actually teaching the youth of today! One last thing to clarify my original point. 2 +2 =4 but informally 2 + 2 =22. If one accepts your 'informal' method as being acceptable, it becomes very very very very very difficult to communicate. If you are teaching kids, I now assert that you are teaching them to be lazy inarticulate jackasses.

grammerhack September 18, 2013, 5:29am

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"It's sad to see you've slipped into the same insulting mode as Over50guy"

Yes, people's interest in language generally takes one of two paths, as you know: those interested in learning how language actually works and those only interested in how they think it ought to work.

JJMBallantyne September 18, 2013, 5:28am

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@grammarjack - I don't know what world you live in, but the majority of business correspondence these days is relatively informal (e.g. use of contractions, first names), largely due to the rise in the use of email. When I started work people still started business letters with 'Thank you for your letter of the 27th ult.', which I doubt many people nowadays would even understand.

Why on earth would I want to use anything but normal language on a forum like this?

It's sad to see you've slipped into the same insulting mode as Over50guy. And it's perhaps telling that you chose African American Vernacular English to make your (humorous?) point. Which is totally irrelevant, incidentally, as that is a separate dialect, not an informal version of Standard English, as any linguist will tell you.

But shouldn't you be directing your remarks at the people who wrote them, the editors of The American Heritage Dictionary, seeing you obviously have a much better grasp of the principles of English grammar than they or the editors of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary do. Apparently better than the whole world of ESL/EFL and linguistics, for that matter.

Warsaw Will September 18, 2013, 3:58am

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"I am inclined to think that one's education has been in vain if one fails to learn that most schoolmasters are idiots."
Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964) British biographer.

jayles September 17, 2013, 10:58pm

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@Warsaw Will - All I can say is "WOW!!!" So a parent uses 'can' incorrectly so it is acceptable for the child to do so as well? How liberating! So, yo yo yo dude! I no longer will ax you a question. But instead I be writing informally as it be more friendly. Me and yo now sees eye to eyes. You be right my man. Me likes writing dis way. Me and yous knows better than everybody else. This is liberating; like running through a meadow naked! Thanks you for showing me that there light!

(My final question. . .is writing informally (when one is educated) being 'hip' and 'modern' or just being a lazy-ass?)

grammerhack September 17, 2013, 10:01pm

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@WW RSS works from an XML format; I presume that the PITE feed for XML is somehow sent before the database is updated. At the head of the page there is an "About" option which gives contact info. In my experience the guy is quite helpful.

jayles September 17, 2013, 7:36pm

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@grammarhack - First of all, thanks for taking the time to read my post. The reason I say ‘maths’ and not ‘math’, incidentally, is because that’s how it’s referred to just about everywhere in the English-speaking world except for North America. But as it happens, on language forums and on my own blog I do tend to write fairly informally, as I find that friendlier.

As regards referencing my own post, of course I wasn’t putting it forward as any sort of authority, but as I had already written on the subject of 2+2=5, it seemed a shame to let it go to waste. As for truth, I’m not sure where that really comes into a discussion about language.

I'll come back on your main point about formality vs correct a bit later. But for now just a word about 'can' for permission. I don't think I exactly said that 'can' and 'may' are synonyms, but I did say 'Nowadays, when used in conversation, may (for permission) can often sound over-formal and a bit old-fashioned', and quoted Michael Swan, author of Practical English Usage as saying ‘In an informal style can and cannot / can’t are more common [than may and may not]’.

This isn't exactly revolutionary stuff. Here’s what they have to say at, which has one of the biggest (American) ESL sites:

“In the past, especially when discussing modal verbs' grammar, 'may' was considered correct and 'can' incorrect when asking for permission by many teachers. However, in modern English it is common to use both forms and considered correct by all but the strictest of grammarians.”

At Merriam-Webster's Dictionary:

“The use of can to ask or grant permission has been common since the 19th century and is well established, although some commentators feel may is more appropriate in formal contexts.”

And at The American Heritage Dictionary:

“Generations of grammarians and teachers have insisted that can should be used only to express the capacity to do something, and that may must be used to express permission. But children do not use can to ask permission out of a desire to be stubbornly perverse. They have learned it as an idiomatic expression from adults: After you clean your room, you can go outside and play. As part of the spoken language, this use of can is perfectly acceptable.”

And for a linguist’s view of the historical aspect and a graph that says it all really, there’s Motivated Grammar:

Warsaw Will September 17, 2013, 4:58pm

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@jayles - but what I don't understand is why the name on the RSS reader should be different from that on PITE's page. It's not just you; Brus always appears on my reader as Retired Teacher.

Warsaw Will September 17, 2013, 4:41pm

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@ww sometimes the system comes up with "your name is being used by someone else", adding the epithet is simply a work-around. Possibly my IP address changes depending on proxy server.

jayles September 17, 2013, 2:52pm

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@jayles - I'm confused. When you were just plain jayles, you registered on rss readers as jayles the unwise. And now that you've 'come out' as jayles the unwise, my rss reader is callin you 'jayles the greedy'! Which is it to be?

Warsaw Will September 17, 2013, 11:03am

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"I was taught that my use of grammar was either 'correct' or 'incorrect.' "
Looking back, it seems that quite a number of things we were taught were 'right' at the time, but were perhaps more a product of the prevaiing culture. These days the approach to English grammar is more descriptive - this is how things are - and less rule-bound; language changes remarkably fast, with each new generation and so we need a more yielding approach. The fact is 'can' is widely used for both ability and permission now, and 'may' for possiblity and (more formally) for permission. If one would like it to be different then all we need to do is persuade the other billion or so English speakers to stick to our rules.

jayles the unwise September 17, 2013, 3:02am

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@Warsaw Will You wrote, "Ah! The language rules are like maths rules fallacy." First, I must assume you are being informal when writing 'maths rules' rather than 'math rules?' And are you citing your own blog post as a reference to the truth or just and expansion of your argument?

After reading your post, correct me if I am wrong, but it appears that you see the language as 'informal,' 'neutral,' or 'formal.' I was taught that my use of grammar was either 'correct' or 'incorrect.'

So, be assured that when you decide to speak 'informally,' I will probably be hearing you speak 'incorrectly.' Of course it is your choice on how you want to speak. But it seems you should take responsibility for your informality being perceived as you not actually knowing how to speak 'correctly.'

BTW (informal abbreviation of 'by the way') your post claims that 'may' and 'can' are now synonyms?! I was taught that 'may' asked for permission and 'can' referred to one's ability. Now that you say it is ok to use them interchangeably, what do I do when I need to be specific and perfectly clear? Maybe it is good that 2+2=4; maybe there should be absolutes in grammar/language as well?

grammerhack September 17, 2013, 12:25am

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Much of this hinges on time and place: decades ago I worked in a large formal organization and some letters to customers ended with :
"I have the honour to remain your humble and obedient servant"
which I would never use today even to Mrs Windsor.
I believe diplomatic circles may still use an opening like:
"The Ambassador wishes to avail himself of the opportunity to convey his good offices...."
What is "right" means what fits the situation.

jayles the unwise September 16, 2013, 8:37pm

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@Over50guy - It's always easier to throw out personal insults than put forward a constructive argument, but we're used to something a bit better on this forum. There are a few regulars here who I often disagree with, but none of them have yet accused me of being ignorant or uneducated.

I may be informal on occasions, but at least I'm polite. And in my experience people are generally judged more on their manners than by the way they talk.

As for being ignorant and/or uneducated, perhaps you might like to look at my post on personal pronouns at my language blog and judge for yourself, in particular the section titled 'Personal pronouns at the start of a sentence'.

Like it or not, the 'Me and so-and-so' construction is quite common amongst educated speakers in informal contexts. Or, as Burchfield puts it in The New Fowler's, contexts 'in which me is now tending to usurp the territory that logically belonged to the subject-pronoun I', including when it is 'used informally at the head of clauses' and he gives several examples, including one from Margaret Atwood and another from Alec Wilkinson, both highly-considered writers. Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage also has one from Flannery O'Connor from a letter written in 1950 - 'Me and Enoch are living in the woods'. So it seems I'm in good company!

Here are two other examples I've come across:

'Me and Barry used to work together.' - from the BBC TV comedy 'Not going out', from a character who spoke absolutely standard English.

'Stan Carey, me, and Dominik Lukes all wrote posts ... about non-literal uses of literally' - American linguist, Gabe Doyle, writing at his blog MotivatedGrammar

@grammarhack - Ah! The language rules are like maths rules fallacy:

Warsaw Will September 16, 2013, 3:42pm

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Hey Warsaw Will, "informally," did you know that 2+2=5?

grammerhack September 16, 2013, 1:41pm

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To Warsaw Will. . .to make an argument that "Me and Dave are off to the pub" is 'informal' rather than just "incorrect," seems to me to go right in line with Common Core education methods. Thank you for enlightening me to that the Rules of English Grammar are now subject to democratic majority rule. So, although you and 8 of our brightest college students may be happy to use "Me and Dave" in the subject of a sentence, I am the 1 in 8 that think you are more ignorant/uneducated than informal. Catch a clue! We are all judged by the way we talk/communicate!

Over50guy September 16, 2013, 1:39pm

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@Over50guy - except that people don't do it consistently with 'I' and "me". Those of us who are happy to say informally "Me and Dave are off to the pub", will almost always say "David and I are going to the pub." in more formal contexts, when speaking to Dave's parents, perhaps. In actual usage - "I and David" is very rare, and I would say non-idiomatic. But equally, "Dave and me" is pretty uncommon, the more idiomatic expression is "Dave and me". I can't find it, but I've read somewhere that in a straw poll of students at one particular college, of those who found the use of 'me' acceptable in subject position in certain circumstances were more likely to put "me" first, by a ratio of about 8-1.

By the way, I always open doors for people.The trouble is that some people confuse formality with politeness.

Warsaw Will September 16, 2013, 6:19am

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Hugh Grant? What's wrong with 'im guv?

jayles September 15, 2013, 7:25pm

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For those that put themselves first . . .'I and he,' 'me and him,' my guess is that they probably open doors and walk through first. Putting one first seems to reflect where one sees the center of the universe. I don't think it has much to do with education as just today Pres. Obama said, ". . . me and him (Putin)" on an interview with George Stephanopoulos. And wasn't Mr. Obama the Editor of the Harvard Law Review?

Over50guy September 15, 2013, 6:03pm

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Hi Jaxagirl - Just to defend the Queen, not that I'm a great monarchist, she does in fact use "My husband and I" absolutely correctly, as she always uses it in subject position in full sentences. Whether she says "Me and Phil are off to the races" when she's at home, I've no idea, but it would be a bit too informal for her TV addresses. The Brynne Edelsten example is interesting (and different from the Queen's), the problem being that is not a full sentence. Should we read it as short for "(This is) Geoff and I attending a gala", in which case I think it's fine, if a bit formal; or is it really "(This is a picture of) Geoff and I attending a gala", in which case "me" is more correct? I think you could argue either way.

Incidentally, it is precisely because the Queen says "My husband and I", that Brits often try to avoid similar expressions. Most of don't want to sound like the Queen. Or Hugh Grant, for that matter. I think that's also a reason that many of us try and avoid using the pronoun "one", as it is also associated with the royal family and the upper classes - although they actually use it to mean "I"or "we", rather than "you". - "One has kedgeree for breakfast and one's butler brings in the newspaper, ironed of course. Then one goes for a walk with one's corgis in one's garden."

But I go along with your main drift, and what I try and argue for in this forum is the use of natural English, rather than getting your knickers in a twist over archaic and dubious 'rules' being broken. I also agree with you that each of us should be able to make up our own minds what we say. If people don't like a word or expression etc that's in general use, it's easy enough, don't use it. But there's no need to criticise others for it.

Warsaw Will December 3, 2012, 2:25am

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@Warsaw Will - Hello from Australia (English ancestry). Thank you for your feedback. Maybe my comment should go in the 'Pet Peeves' category under inappropriate usage of the word 'myself' when used in referring to two people, one of which is myself/me or I even?! - Dare I use the abbreviation 'Lol' or ;).
I do appreciate your comments & what you are saying about pedants, regarding formalism and precision. As mentioned previously, I don't really mind in the slightest what is 'proper' - only what I believe sounds nice when I speak at the time. That's just me & I feel everyone is entitled to say what they say, however they say it. I've watched Episodes of American Jewelry and Loan | Pawn Detroit (we spell it Jewellery), where I shudder at the elocution of some of the people on the show, but once again each to their own. If one has heard me in a past conversation, stating the word 'myself', no matter how pedantic they were, have not battered an eyelid (or were too polite to say anything/or felt it inappropriate to do so). I've not encountered it so far. I would like to point out to any future comments regarding my post, whether right or wrong (obviously wrong), it was not to advise, - merely to voice what I personally say. I'd also like to hear someone approach the Queen of England if they ever see her & tell her that her "My husband & I" is incorrect to some. Brynne Edelsten was recently berated for titling one of her photos, 'Geoff & I attending a gala' when someone stated it should have been Geoff & me! I think there are more important things going on in the world to be concerned over than who says what how. (Insert smiley face here).

Jaxagirl December 2, 2012, 8:07pm

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@Jaxagirl - Thanks for adding a word to my vocabulary. I take it you're Australian. I would use 2 (neutral) or 3 (informal), depending on the occasion. It doesn't bother me particularly, but a lot of people might take exception to your use of "myself" in 1, as there is no need for a reflexive or emphatic pronoun here. Just thought I'd get it in before the pedants arrive.

Warsaw Will December 2, 2012, 4:47am

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All grammar, nouns, pronouns, verbs etc. aside, this is what I say:

1)That included John & myself on the list.
2)John and I were/are on the list.
3)Me and John were/are on the list.

I may sound like a bit of a prude, but prefer not to use the ME (No.3) so much, as I feel as though it sounds a little ocker/slang.

Jaxagirl November 30, 2012, 9:19am

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In either case, We would then,Have to analyze The history of between the two.( UK ) U.S.
where as grammar has much to do with both History and geography,I am an American Myself currently living in Mainland china. I get these responses at times
Whether you are using contemporary,traditionally or Old English. We must understand the following and how or what may seem accurate.Who and Why factor.

Who claims that in either case were right? e.g Him and I, He and I, Me and and Him, etc.

While referring ( others ) before yourself may claim respect.......

How ever it may also include selfishness at the same time or claiming one to be more inferior.

These grammatical flaws are just the basics,When believing or studying the behavior of both sides and how to use it wisely,Thus in sure of this theory is how you perceive it.

tsm420 May 28, 2012, 10:16pm

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Actually, whether certain punctuation goes inside or outside quotation marks is a subject of much debate. This is also one of those things that's different between American and UK English (American inside, and UK outside). Funny though, I was taught to punctuate outside the quotation marks and I'm American.

porsche February 3, 2011, 3:44am

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Myself is a reflexive pronoun, as are himself, herself, and themselves. They are to be used when the object refers back (reflexively) to the subject. If you're using a -self in the object, and the my/him/her/them to which you attached the -self is NOT the subject, then you're using it wrong. People who use -self's superfluously come across to me as asinine and haughty, like they're trying to sound like they're speaking particularly properly. It's one think to speak with impeccable grammar and syntax; it's another to SOUND like you're TRYING to speak that way.

Punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks, except for maybe long dashes:
Max hated church--he was quoted as a youth as saying, "Church is for the devil,"--so everyone from his hometown was surprised when he matriculated to seminary.

What sounds correct isn't always correct. And being rich doesn't make you or your parents speak better English, but I'm glad you mingle with the lesser peoples.

alant February 3, 2011, 1:55am

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Isn't it correct to say "Mrs. Smith taught John and me", not "myself"? Isn't "myself" unnecessary? You wouldn't say "she taught myself", you'd say "she taught me".

I am going INSANE these days hearing people say "between you and I" and "give it to John and I". How can something so basic to English grammar go completely out the window?

And I have a thing about putting the punctuation outside of quotation marks when it's not part of the quote. Am I wrong? I thought that's how I was taught.

annwexler February 3, 2011, 12:55am

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Being well-spoken conveys a sense of confidence, it is nice to know that it is still appreciated in cyber-space. Thank you for attending to my sensibilities.

moore333 November 3, 2010, 11:03pm

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Re: “Mrs. Smith taught me and John” Personally, I would say that Mrs. Smith taught John and myself. I have always thought that English has a rhythm and you say what sounds correct!

shaunc August 9, 2010, 7:31pm

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I think that changing the pronoun form from subjective to objective doesn't change the inherent spirit of politeness of pronoun order- I/me always comes last, and the 'guest' (anyone not in the first person) goes first in the sentence order, to designate respect.

lyterk August 2, 2010, 2:09am

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Him and I, him and Me. The first sounds a little closer to my heart, prolly bcuz i grew up with upperclass parents. But I keep a good amount of mid and lower class company, so my english gets pretty balanced. I myself don't really care, it just angers me when people say "him and I". I'm thinking no, you're a jerk, I'm not even gonna bother talkin to ya.

afihai July 24, 2010, 12:27am

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I don't think there is a proper order. I've heard some people say that you should put "I/me" last to be polite, but that has nothing to do with grammar.

goofy July 23, 2010, 2:57pm

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Yes     No