Grammar Guerilla: It Is “He And I” Not “Me And Him”

Guerilla-GorillaI have been warning students for some years about the impending collapse of Western civilization. It used to be a joke. Now, the warnings are rueful. Another evidence that the end is closer than it might seem is the apparent loss of the distinction between he (or she) and him (or her). I regularly see online and hear professional broadcasters say, “him and me went to the game.” I admit that it catches my attention every time I hear it or see it. My grade school teachers did not think that I was paying attention. I frequently gave them reason to think that I was ignoring them (and sometimes I was) but I did learn that lesson. Over the years, after grade school, it became clear to me, however, that this was not an arbitrary rule (what the smart people among us now call a “construct” subject to deconstruction) but a reflection of the nature of things.

In the nature of things there is a distinction between the subject of a verb and its object. I am not you and you are not I. We are two distinct beings. The person throwing the ball is not the ball. They are distinct entities. That is the distinction between subject and object. The subject does the action and the object receives the action directly or indirectly.

We recognize reality by distinguishing between the subject and the object by using different forms of the pronoun. He is in the subject case (i.e., it has the function of subject and takes the form appropriate to he subject). We use the subject case to communicate who is performing the action. As a form of politeness we place the other person first, in the place of prominence in the sentence: He and I went to the game. Grammatically he and are both subjects of the verb (to go).

We express the object function (case) with him and me as in, He threw the ball to him or She came with me to the store. In the first instance him is the indirect object. The ball is the direct object of the action. Him signals the indirect object. The ball came to him. For the sake of clarity it is important to get the person correct and the case. In the second instance, the use of me signals the object of the preposition. In English we say that the preposition with takes the object case.

In this post, the barbarism that I want to kill is the use of the object case in place of the subject case when there is no good reason for it. There are some constructions where the object might be the subject but certainly not in an ordinary declarative sentence. Him and me are not going to the game. He and I are going to the ballgame.

When broadcasters, postmasters, and social media scribes show that they do not know or care to distinguish between the subject and the object, they appear and sound ignorant. This is stuff that should have been learned in second grade. I had a fairly mediocre public school education but even I, distracted and mediocre though I was, learned the difference between I and me and him and he. I am reasonably sure that my mother would have given me a good smack for saying, him and me are going to the park.

It is not asking too much to maintain some standards even as the culture collapses around us. There were bright lights during the darkest years of the so-called “dark ages.” Would you not rather be one of those than one of those contributing to the darkness. Elitist? If upholding the distinction between the subject and object cases is elitist, then mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. In my experience as an editor, I have found over the last ten years or so that the incorrect use of the subject case when the object case is required is more common than incorrectly using the object case.

    Between you and I, that is even more annoying.

    • Yes, hypercorrections are just as prevalent and pernicious (but every sermon on its Sunday, as they say)

    • @Jeremiah Pitts: “Hypercorrections.” I had not heard that term applied to this issue, but that is exactly what it is. It’s people not wanting to sound ignorant so they “hypercorrect” and use the subjective *incorrectly* (as in “between you and I” in my example above) and end up betraying their ignorance.

      People do it all the time with reflexive pronouns as well.

      I have found I need to turn off editing mode or go mad.

    • Exactly right! It hurts my ears to hear people say, “between you and I.”

      Granted I went to a Catholic grade school in the 1950s and had to learn things like this or else–but it isn’t that hard. Anyone can do it with a little effort.

    • Can I just agree with RL with great gusto. That drives me crazy. Almost as much as people who say, “I could care less”, instead of “I couldn’t care less.” 🙂

      So, not being a grammar expert, but wanting to have an expert confirm what I think is right, isn’t it correct to say, “She went to the game with him and me.” or do you say “with him and myself.”

    • For me it’s a little more painful because I’ve spent a lot of time learning other western languages, and tackling French, German, Spanish and Italian, you become more aware that grammar matters because the rules change enough to gain your general attention on the matter. I work so hard to get word order correct in foreign languages, “Ich haette ein V8 haben koennen.” or “Siempre compramos muchas camisas verdes.” and then I have to listen to people say, “Please send the report to he and I.” Ouch. And I agree. Hypercorrection is well put on this subject.
      Thanks for an interesting discussion.

  2. “People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.” B. R. Myers (Atlantic, 2008).

    • That’s well put, though I’d add that sometimes style over substance isn’t a plus either.
      The fuzzy-headed intellectual is often lost in the weeds of the latest pseudo-smart perspectives, while a little common sense is needed and gets to the point. Seems particularly relevant these days. Knowing where to balance that is admittedly tough though.

  3. First, I ardently agree that such confusions of case does present as ignorance amidst an educated society.

    However, that hearers are not confused as to whether the pronouns in use are subjects or objects suggests there are other mechanisms at work within our language (e.g., whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, and/or the position of the pronoun in the sentence) that serve this same function. Perhaps (especially the oral) English language is in the midst of transition from the extant grammatical structures to new ones?

    I know for a fact that some languages (French particularly comes to mind) use the same pronouns for subjects and some objects–elle(s), third person feminine. I have no concrete examples, but some languages likely do not have different pronouns for subjects and objects altogether.

    All of this to say that the functional linguist (i.e., if there is no confusion between the speaker and the hearers, the phrase is grammatical) and educated man not wanting to present as an ignorant hick are at war within me over this very subject.

    • I would add that in English ‘you’ and ‘it’ are used in both subjective and objective cases without confusion. I teach both prescriptive and descriptive linguistics courses, so I really have don’t have a dog in this hunt (or maybe I have both dogs? Who can tell?)

      I find the death of the who/whom distinction to be more fascinating.

    • That’s true Justin, for some languages you see that a little, but I think most change for the object. In some languages it’s more complicated than English, like in German, where you have an direct object form in the predicate and an indirect object form as well – at least in the masculine. So you have . “Ich habe ihn gesehen.” (I have seen him.) vs. “Ich habe es ihm gegeben.” “I gave it to him.”
      French has il and lui. Elle doesn’t change. Spanish doesn’t change as much. Italian does.

  4. While I wholeheartedly agree with Grammar Guerilla, the first thing that came into my mind were these lyrics:

    Good-bye to Rosie, the Queen of Corona
    See you, me and Julio
    Down by the schoolyard
    See you, me and Julio
    Down by the schoolyard…

    This is the problem with having a head full of rock and roll trivia.

    • Actually, I think that grammar is correct. Doesn’t that imply I will see you, me and Julio?
      But good example.

  5. Yes! Agreeing with Mr. keener’s comment. I am tired of hearing, “ Christ died for you and I” in sermons!! He did not die for I.

  6. As a renowned Baptist preacher used to say, in a deep voice, “Well, amen.”

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