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“Between you and I...”

Why do some people, especially pseudo eloquent corporate types, insist on substituting “I” for “me” under the misplaced guise of speaking formal English: “Between you and I, the meeting was substandard”, “Thanks for taking Julie and I for dinner”. I know there’s not much to discuss here. It’s simply wrong but it represents a deeper misunderstanding of the use of nouns/pronouns. Personally I tolerate the incorrect use of “me” as the subject to a much greater extent (“me and Geoff went to the beach”) because although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable to many in colloquial English. The use of “I” as the object is neither grammatically correct nor colloquial or formal. It is in a sense a clumsy grammatical over compensation. Besides people who make this error usually (but not always) over rate their own eloquence.

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I think the term for this nowadays is 'hypercorrection'.

Skeeter Lewis May 27, 2014, 12:00pm

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On google books "between you and I" does crop up but much less frequently than "between you and me" For instance:
"Morality is a direct encounter between You and I."

As an aside the phrase "between you and me" meaning "in confidence" is rendered as "between four eyes" (Négy szem közt) in Hungarian, and "unter vier Augen" in German.

jayles May 27, 2014, 4:14pm

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And "under four eyes" crops up on google books, sometimes without explanation:
"this time Ngabehi Secadirana himself, disguised as a servant came under the cloak of darkness to the resident to tell him under four eyes what monstrous plot..."
One must wonder if this is just an example of poor translation though.
But it certainly avoids all the messy grammar issues.

jayles May 27, 2014, 4:32pm

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"Hypercorrection" it is. Or at least, was.

The hypercorrection originally came about because speakers were vaguely aware that at some point their teachers had hammered something into their heads about the use of "I" rather than "me". Uncertainty and insecurity arising from that dimly remembered hectoring led people to start using "I" by default ("'I' is better English than 'me' or something like that").

But now, I find that the use of "I" this way, i.e., as in "between you and I", is so commonplace and widespread it has almost become accepted usage.

JJMBallantyne May 27, 2014, 4:39pm

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There's been quite a lot of talk about the use of I in object position recently, as Obama is quite fond of doing it - "a very personal decision for Michelle and I". But the insistence on 'me' seems relatively recent, and in an Op-Ed in the NYT, by the pair who run 'The Grammarphobia Blog' quote these earlier examples of objective 'I':

“All debts are cleared between you and I.” - Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
“which, between you and I, I wish was swallowed up by an earthquake, provided my eloquent mother was not in it.” - Byron

Google "President Bush graciously invited Michelle and I to meet with him and first lady Laura Bush.” and you'll find the grammar police out in force - and as usual they're Oh so smug about it, like this one -

Warsaw Will May 27, 2014, 10:36pm

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Oops! Grammar fail caused by incomplete editing - please ignore the 'by' in the second sentence.

Warsaw Will May 27, 2014, 10:47pm

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Thank you all for your responses.

A couple of comments. Warsaw Will says that the insistence on "me" seems relatively recent. The article in the NYT says that the insistence seemed to come about in the 19th Century which is a long time ago. The other smug article which you cite is angry and aggressive but is it not correct? To quote from the smug article: "This particular mistake seems to be made most often by people trying to sound smarter than they are" which is precisely my point. This is somehow different from the majority of grammatical errors. This is perpetuated by (I can't think of a better way to put this) those who should know better.

JJMBallantyne you are absolutely spot on (as others are) when you state that teachers hammered away at "I vs me" ad nauseum, resulting in the hypercorrection that we now witness. I would argue however that it is not now accepted usage. Using "me" as the subject in a colloquial sense is more an accepted usage.

I sincerely hope one day that I will be less phased by this phrase. To be clear, I'm not a grammar fascist. I understand that grammar evolves and mistakes become accepted. Perhaps it's the faux-pomposity of this mistake which makes it stand out...

Canadaneil May 28, 2014, 10:50am

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@Canadaneil - in the context of the history of English, I'd suggest that the 19th century is in fact relatively recent.

Warsaw Will May 28, 2014, 1:48pm

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"I sincerely hope one day that I will be less phased by this phrase", you say. I believe you mean 'fazed' when you say 'phased' - please correct me if I am wrong, for I am not certain I am right about this. Surely 'phased' means divided into phases, whereas 'fazed' means something along the lines of 'cast into confusion', a much less organised state.

Why do people who do not care about the language, and think terms like "between you and I" are just fine ... why on earth do they engage with this Pain the English forum? It is like writing an article in a medical journal to advise 'just take whatever pills you like, it makes no difference in the end, or whatever!'.
"Accepted usage?" I read above!! How could it be thought that "a very personal decision for Michelle and I" is literate English language? Would the man have said "a very personal decision for I to take"? Would he? Would he? Of course not!

Of course people make errors in spoken language and in written language too, but to accept that this is 'now accepted usage' is not a step in the right direction, exactly, now, is it? I am slightly horrified by reading some of the stuff above about how getting grumpy, as I do, about the acceptance of deteriorating standards of language is 'fascist', or 'smug' or 'pompous'. Love the daft term 'faux-pomposity' spotted above, and wonder how Excel would cope if it were numbers, not words.

Brus May 29, 2014, 4:26pm

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@Brus - 'Why do people who do not care about the language, and think terms like "between you and I" are just fine ... why on earth do they engage with this Pain the English forum'.

Personally, I say 'between you and me', and would always advise my students to do the same. But 'between you and I' is really a very small error and leaves no room for misunderstanding or ambiguity. Personal pronouns are the last area where English retains cases, and many of the most argued about questions revolve round them. If we can accept objective pronouns in situations where formal grammar demands subjective ones, is it really so awful to do it the other way round? It sounds no worse or pompous to me than people who use grammatically 'correct' but hopelessly formal language in informal situations. I certainly don't think it justifies making disparaging remarks about the people who say it or about their English.

And I'm afraid your analogy, oft-used on traditional grammar sites, of taking away the second person doesn't always work. Canadaneil has said that he can 'tolerate' subjective 'me' in ”me and Geoff went to the beach", and a lot of us use this construction informally, but of course we'd never say "me went to the beach". Linguists well understand that different things can happen when joint subjects or objects are involved than when only one person is involved.

I am also slightly horrified by reading some of the stuff above - you may love the bit about 'faux-pomposity' and the stuff about 'people over-rating their own eloquence'. But I just see someone imputing things to other people he has no way of knowing about, in a rather intellectually-snobbish way. This only confirms my feeling that a lot of language peeving is as much about putting other people down as with any real interest in grammar..

As I was the one who used the word smug; yes, I'm afraid that is the impression I do get from many language peevers, as exemplified by the article I quoted above, and especially from websites like 'Apostrophe Abuse' - a sense of 'We know better than them'. And often without cause, as all they are interested in is their 'rule', not the history behind it, or any debate surrounding it.

There's a lot more to caring about, or even loving, the language than criticising other people for their errors; and it's perhaps telling that people who devote their lives to the study of English hardly ever do this.

What I find really horrifying is that you seem to think that those of us whose interest in English is one of observing a fascinating organically-developing system rather than peeving about the English of others have no reason to engage with PITE. Should PITE be reserved, then, for those who, in your own words, get grumpy about what you perceive as deteriorating standards? Does it mean that there is no place here for someone whose interest in English is more informed by modern linguistics than by traditional prescriptivism? People who try to take care with their own language, people like me who teach English, write about English, but who haven't the slightest interest in, or desire to, complain about the language of others. There are few enough of us as it is, but it seems you would have PITE reserved for the faithful.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 12:36am

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One thing one must always keep in mind with the Great Bard, is that he was writing plays for entertainment. Liken to folks who write scripts for films ... we all know that films often note poor grammar for entertainment. Shakespeare also wrote in the colloquial. His writing of "between you and I" might hav been intentionally wrong.

AnWulf May 30, 2014, 5:32am

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Oops, something not quite parallel there - 'who haven't the slightest interest in complaining, or desire to complain, about ...'.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 6:11am

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@AnWulf - fair comment when it comes to vernacular dialogue. Shakespeare only used 'between you and' once, at least in the First Folio, and this was from Antonio, the educated 'hero' of the Merchant of Venice, and in a letter, what's more. There are also examples of this usage was in Restoration drama, but it seems to have largely died out since then, at least till modern times, although apparently Mark Twain used quite regularly until corrected.

As much as Shakespeare might have been writing for entertainment, the fact remains that he is often seen as the greatest writer in the English language and a paradigm of good English. Good as some of them may, I can't see film scripts being made a compulsory part of the English syllabus in every British school quite yet.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 6:33am

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It's not really about 'between you and I', but there's an interesting Intelligence Squared debate on YouTube with the title of 'Between You and I the English Language is Going to the Dogs' between John Humphrys (BBC) and Simon Heffer (ex of The Telegraph, now at The Daily Mail) putting forward the motion, and Oliver Kamm (The Times) and Mary Beard (Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge) opposing it - something there for all of us, perhaps.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 12:13pm

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@Warsaw Will,

That debate was very enjoyable. However, I have an issue about what Oliver Kamm said about registers. As I've learned about how British schools don't teach much grammar any more from thee and others, I will say that if a person doesn't know proper grammar, how will he (or she) operate proficiently in each one? It seems absurd to say it's about registers when people aren't taught inadequately.

Another thing with which I have a problem is that a person can a degree in English, or whatever one of the debaters talked about, without knowing correctly spelling, really? Really? It's one thing to be rebellious to Latinate/French spelling, like AnWulf, and then there's a plain lack of sedulity to that person's career.

(Note: let's exclude ESLs from this; I'm mainly focused on people whose first language is English)

Jasper June 1, 2014, 3:05pm

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*aren't should be are

Jasper June 1, 2014, 3:28pm

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I enjoyed that debate too. It occurred to me from the start that the point of debating is that you could do the debate all over again the next night (it's always a night, not a day, isn't it?) and argue the other side's case. In other words, you present an argument, but you do not need to believe it, indeed it is probably much better that you do not. You do a better job if you are looking at it objectively. That is the job of an advocate, who as long as he does not know his client is guilty may argue the case for his innocence without having any knowledge, or indeed any reason for belief, that his client is indeed not guilty. Next week he might be the prosecutor, arguing the other side on the same terms. In a civil matter he takes on either side of the argument, according to who is employing him.

The debaters in this case put forward their arguments very entertainingly, and I agreed with all of them! Each left out the arguments against his or her case, and left that job to the other side, of course, as that is the name of the game: a debate.

Brus June 1, 2014, 3:37pm

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I don't recall ever being taught English grammar as such, apart from when to put in an apostrophe before or after an 's', which really is just spelling. Tenses we were never taught.

All my grammar came from learning Latin, French and German (and Russian) at secondary school. When one has to render something like "she had been having affairs for quite some time, before her husband found out" into, well, any of the above tongues, one quickly learns how quirky English is.
I might add, as obiter dictum, that once one realizes that pre- or post-positions in other languages usually 'take' an oblique case (anything but the nominative/vocative) then it seems pretty clear that "between you and I" is ungrammatical. (And that 'me' in "give me some chips" is dative, not accusative).

Of course the case system endings in English are vestigal, but that is no good reason to be ignorant thereof.

No, I am not suggesting that schoolchildren should be forced to learn Latin; but one foreign language well-taught and well-learned is a gateway to a different culture and understanding and perhaps tolerance. Perhaps Arabic would be a good choice for children in England today.

In ESOL the proliferation of English tenses and modals, and their muddled uses present a significant hurdle at the intermediate stage. Curiously, in my experience, for most ESOL learners it is hard to master the usage of tenses and modal in class or from books. Those who have ample opportunities to pick it up the usage in everyday life often outperform mere book-learners. I guess that applies to native speakers too.

However in Britain today there are many non-native speakers at primary and secondary schools and maybe "English" classes need to be geared for their particular needs.
I have had to teach remedial English classes here for immigrant children who passed out of their final year at secondary school, but who still lack the basics of English structures. The issue here is that ESOL classes at secondary school are sometimes obliged to follow the mainstream curriculum leaving little time for ESOL itself. The other issue is that there is no placement according to English level, just by age, which leads to classes of very mixed ability and level, and outcomes.
I could go on.

jayles June 1, 2014, 4:28pm

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Shot myself in the foot there: "she had been having affairs for quite some time" is really hard to translate; to me using past perfect continuous here suggests the affairs are mostly sequential not concurrent, a tricky concept to put across. Sometimes translating makes one more aware of one's own idioms.

jayles June 1, 2014, 7:34pm

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Agree with everything you say about using another language as, in part, a device with which to understand your own, and grammar is, surely, the tool to use. I think that Latin is the one to teach for this purpose, and its rigours are surely leavened if Roman culture and history are part of the course. I recommend the Oxford Latin Course by Balme and Norwood for this purpose; the first edition is much more thorough and enjoyable, the second being shortened to accommodate the need for it all to be stuffed into the fewer hours allowed these days. I do not know, nor begin to imagine, how you can learn German or Russian without it, but I have seen for myself how they try now to teach French without reference to your first language, leaving out the grammar too. Enough said about that.

Brus June 2, 2014, 12:45am

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When I wrote "German or Russian without it," I meant without reference to grammar, not Latin. Of course you don't need Latin to learn German, but you certainly need grammar.

Brus June 2, 2014, 12:47am

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If one is talking about teaching a foreign language at school, the first question is what is achievable with a largish group in a few hours per week. Some countries also use English as a medium of instruction: this happens both at various 'international' schools and kindergartens, some mainstream schools, and at some universities eg Holland, Saudi Arabia.
The same is true of teaching grammar at school: one can hardly discuss it without setting out aims, goals, outcomes, and looking at the cohorts of students and their needs in this area.

jayles June 2, 2014, 11:36am

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I agree with the observation that it's hypercorrection as a result of English teachers trying to be "me and John went to the store" out of kids. I'd like to add that that that may also be the reason for the extremely common use of "myself" for either "I" or "me." In fact, "me" seems to me to be disappearing in many uses.

CeiSerith May 30, 2015, 3:40pm

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Yes     No