Is it you and I or me and you?
Do you, like me, dread getting that wrong at the wrong moment? Oh the embarrassment! Thankfully, there’s an easy recipe for getting it right.
And it isn’t using you and I every time. We’ve got to get that misconception out the way. There’s nothing inherently more formal about using I instead of me. The following, for example, is grammatically correct: When he visited, Henry asked how you and I were doing. But the next example is grammatically incorrect: Yesterday, Henry rushed past you and I in the shop.
Here’s the principle that explains why the first example is right and the second one is wrong: A pair of words like ‘you and I’ is grammatically correct when both words can work in the sentence on their own.
Let’s write out the first example from above using you on its own and then I on its own.
When he visited, Henry asked how you were doing.
When he visited, Henry asked how I was doing.
Both those sentences work perfectly. Therefore, when you and I are paired back up, the sentence will be grammatically spot on:
When he visited, Henry asked how you and I were doing.
Perfect! But the same can’t be said about the second example from above:
Yesterday, Henry rushed past you in the shop.
Yesterday, Henry rushed past I in the shop.
While you works fine, I certainly doesn’t. Let’s try me instead:
Yesterday, Henry rushed past me in the shop.
Therefore, you and me must be the correct pair:
Yesterday, Henry rushed past you and me in the shop.
And it gets better. This principle not only works for I and me but also he and him, and she and her.
He decided to play football. I decided to play football. >> He and I decided to play football.
The ball flew over her. The ball flew over me. >> The ball flew over her and me.
You should go to the cinema. I should go to the cinema. >> You and I should go to the cinema.
The train will bring him home. The train will bring me home. >> The train will bring him and me home.
One more thing before I go …
I wonder how many people have said the following line: ‘You and me were meant to be in love.’ Hundreds of people? Thousands? They are, of course, all getting their grammar wrong, but I often wonder if that’s really such a bad thing. If I tentatively stuck my neck out into the world of grammar heresy, I’d say that ‘you and me were meant to be in love’ rolls off the tongue with an endearing casualness. And it’s got no issue with clarity, or readability, or anything else … except formal grammar. So, while I hope that my little method for nailing your grammar helps, I just want to suggest that this principle of formal grammar might not be right for every occasion. No doubt, an English professor would love grammar perfection in the essays she marks, just like she’d appreciate well-pressed shirts at a college ball. But I won’t judge you for wearing sweat pants to watch a movie. I just hope I’ve helped you to don your best grammar suit that much more easily whenever you need to.