Please don’t say ‘Between you and I’Heat Profit
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“The stamp duty news makes a real difference to my boyfriend and I.”
That was a young homebuyer’s response to the UK government’s cut in the levy on first-time property purchases, reported in the Financial Times — and it probably had many readers yelling “my boyfriend and me!”
Using “I” when “me” is correct is common, and easy to avoid. Just take out the other person and see how it sounds. You would never say: “The stamp duty news makes a real difference to I.”
Do not blame an untutored younger generation. Rhodes scholars have done it, too. Campaigning in 1992, Bill Clinton asked voters to “give Al Gore and I a chance”.
Why do people make what others consider an unforgivable error? Many experts believe they are so used to being corrected for saying “Laura and me went to the shops” that they assume “Laura and I” is correct in all circumstances. That is why they say “the guy in the shop sold this to Laura and I”. Also common, and much despised, is “between you and I”.
“Between you and I” is hypercorrection. Collins dictionary uses “between you and I” as its example in its definition of hypercorrection (“a mistaken correction to text or speech made through a desire to avoid non-standard pronunciation or grammar”).
Anyone who has followed the debate about correct and incorrect grammar knows what is coming next: “between you and I” has its defenders.
First, they point out that this supposedly incorrect form has a long literary history. Defenders of “bad” usage can usually find an example in Shakespeare and, indeed, there is one, in The Merchant of Venice, where Bassanio says “all debts are cleared between you and I”. Other distinguished users of “between you and I” were Henry Fielding and Benjamin Franklin.
Second, the defenders argue that “give Al Gore and I a chance” is not wrong. In his splendid book The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker reasons this way: “If voters give Clinton and Gore a chance, they are not giving Gore his own chance, added on to the chance they are giving Clinton; they are giving the entire ticket a chance.”
The conjunction “Al Gore and I” is not dominated by either Mr Clinton or Mr Gore. It is a unit. If voters support it, they do not support either of its constituents separately. The entire conjunction is the indirect object of the sentence. So, Mr Pinker argues, Mr Clinton could have said either “Al Gore and me” or “Al Gore and I”. As with voters going into the voting booth, the choice was his.
For it to be right, it would have to work with other personal pronouns too, and it does not
Is this convincing? Not entirely. For it to be right, it would have to work with other personal pronouns too, and it does not. For example, if Laura and Will made a purchase, we would never say “the guy at the shop sold it to Laura and he”. We would say “to Laura and him”. And if Laura, Will and Oliver went shopping, we would not say “he sold it to Laura and they”.
The hypercorrection argument still seems a stronger explanation.
Compare this with another pronoun debate. Most of us, when we speak into an entry phone, say “it’s me”. A formal analysis of the sentence would conclude that as “it” is the subject, the pronoun after the verb “is” should take the same case. But only the most constipated pedant these days says “it is I”.
But — and here is the difference — we do the same to all pronouns. If, at an identity parade, we spot the thief who snatched our phone, we say “it was him”, not “it was he”. And if there were two of them, we say “it was them”, not “it was they”.
That is how we speak these days, we do it consistently and that makes it correct. Mr Pinker and his followers are right in pointing out that we do not have an English Academy. Correct grammar is the way we speak and write. And we now say “it’s me” or “her” or “them”.
By the same logic, can we now happily say “good news for my boyfriend and I” even if we do not do the same for other pronouns?
Many see no problem, but plenty still find it jarring. Perhaps that will change. But until it does, if you want to get your point across without distraction, “between you and I” is, between you and me, best avoided.