Why Do People Begin Sentences with “Me”?

I hear it everywhere, not just from the mouths of uneducated characters in TV dramas, but from the TV weatherman and field reporters, from Jeopardy contestants, talk show hosts and their guests, school teachers, bank managers, and people with post-graduate degrees. (And in from the mouths of TV characters who are supposed to be educated! Those geniuses on the pompous television show Numbers were very shaky with their pronouns.)

Me and Bruce will help you program your weather radio.
Me and the news crew have uncovered new facts in the case.
Me and my wife met in Rome.
Me and my staff will be happy to help you.

Don’t they know that by beginning a sentence with “Me and…” they are speaking non-standard English?

Me is the object form of I. It has its place, but not at the beginning of a sentence.

I don’t hear any of these folks saying such things as

Me will help you program your weather radio.
Me has uncovered new facts.
Me met my wife in Rome.
Me will be happy to help you.

So why, when another person becomes part of the subject does a speaker who knows how to use I as a single subject suddenly revert to baby talk?

Many of the errors that some language critics rant about do not bother me very much. The use of friend as a verb, for example. New things create new words and new uses for old ones. That kind of change is natural, necessary, and often quite clever.

This “me and him,” construction, however, has no justification that I can see. It seems to be the result of ignorance, pure and simple.

If speakers know better and still begin sentences with “Me and…” or “Him and…” or “Her and…,” something else is at work.

It may be a desire to emulate media celebrities who are poorly educated, but exceedingly rich and famous.

It may be a desire to flout standards of conventional behavior, like wearing a baseball hat backwards or sideways.

Whatever the motivation, the result is that people who use Me as a subject sound really, really immature.

More about pronouns

19 Responses

  1. I’m glad to read that some people are disturbed to hear “Me” as the subject of a sentence. One person mentioned that the other person should be listed first as in, “My mom and Me went shopping.” I’d rather hear, “My mom and I went shopping,” but I guess in this ME time in history, everybody wants to be first.

  2. Athea Marcos Amir:

    I try to avoid that word “devolving” in regard to English. It IS changing, and far more rapidly than I care to see, but languages don’t “devolve.” They evolve. Dryden would probably groan at our grammar and spelling as we groan at the deviations that disturb us now.

    Like you, I gasp at some of the nonstandard usage in books written by people who should know better and printed by houses that ought to be able to hire copy editors.

    The other evening, I heard a CEO being interviewed on PBS. He was bragging about progress being made and said that something “had went” from something to something better. I googled him. He holds degrees from two highly regarded universities. If anyone should be in control of irregular verbs, it’s this guy.

    So yes, I have to agree that even the “educated” are defying English conventions. Even so, I don’t suppose English will reach the grunt level, but I expect it to be very different from today’s standard in fifty years or so.

    What disturbs me more than the careless errors of individuals is the movement among institutions of higher learning to accept the argument that requiring students to be proficient in standard English is “elitist.” Instructors are being told by administrators to “actively accept spelling, grammar, or other language mistakes” as long as they do not “significantly impede communication.”

    This betrayal from people who are presumably dedicated to learning leaves me completely flummoxed. I believe there are professions that require trainees to have reached a certain height or fail to be admitted, a requirement that must eliminate some people through no fault of their own. Fluency in standard English speech and writing, on the other hand, is not immutable, like height. A prospective college student who has attended school in an English-speaking country from the age of six can be expected to have mastered a standard dialect suitable for college workday the age of 16.. If students coming from elementary and secondary schools are not able to write standard English, the solution is not to lower the standards to accommodate them. The solution is to improve instruction at the elementary and secondary levels.

  3. As a former English teacher, I believe that American English is devolving rapidly, even among the educated. Given enough time, we’ll speak only in grunts, like barbarians.

    I recently read a book by a well-known writer who wrote “My husband felt badly about it.” I used to tell students that the only one who can “feel badly” is a blind man with calluses on his fingers. Otherwise you feel bad. Strange, however, that these people never say they “feel goodly.”

    I’m currently reading a book by an otherwise good writer who wrote “My mom left my brother and I with friends.”

  4. Nat,
    Sorry, I missed your comment when I answered Sinead’s. I’m sure ‘Im too late, but I’d say yes, as an informal caption for your photo, “Me playing the guitar” is just fine.

  5. What is all the fuss about?

    As long as the sentence is understood, why worry about predicates, and nominates. Really?

    Charlie and me sounds absolutely fine and no one can say they don’t understand that.

    I hate grammar bullies but I will say this. Only my mother and teacher are allowed to correct my grammar so best keep your criticisms to yourself.

    Life is too short to get tetchy at other folk’s grammatical errors so remember the purpose of language is to understand.

    My Greek aunt used to say – I love you choose your lipstick? I knew exactly that she meant I love your choice of lipstick.

    Education is what is left after what you’ve been taught is forgotten. Some have better memories than others.

  6. If I’m going to caption a photo of me, is it okay to say “me playing the guitar”? Please let me know! Thanks in advance.

  7. Evan,
    “Me” used as a subject is different from the examples you give in which “me” functions as the complement (predicate nominative) of the verb. Although 18th century grammarians tried to lay down the rule that the predicate nominative in English should take the subject form because that’s how it works in Latin, “That is I” has never been idiomatic English. Most English speakers, myself included, would agree that “Is that me in the photograph?” sounds just fine.

  8. “Whatever the motivation, the result is that people who use Me as a subject sound really, really immature.”

    Is that true in the following?
    (a) [Is that me in this photograph?]
    (b) ? [Is that I in this photograph?]

    (a) sounds perfectly fluent and grammatical, whereas (b) is decidedly marked.

    And we can see this more clearly if we use the first person plural:
    (c) [Is that us in this photograph?]
    (d) * [Is that we in this photograph?]

    (c) is perfectly grammatical; (d) would be considered ungrammatical by most native speakers.

  9. G Ma T,
    Formal teaching of grammar and usage has definitely been sidelined in the school curriculum of today. English speakers growing up now are hit with the double whammy
    of inadequate language teaching in school and daily exposure to nonstandard English in the media. I don’t know how this trend can be stopped without radical changes in teacher training and the teaching of language in the early grades. It’s not just pronoun use. Professional writers published in the most highly regarded publications misuse use words to a startling extent. It’s up to parents and grandparents to supplement the curriculum at home.

  10. I believe that somewhere in time zealous teachers corrected students who began a sentence with “me and John” by saying “No, no. It is “John and I”, without fully explaining subjective and objective pronoun usage. In addition, reinforcing the lesson by having all prepositions named and memorized would have been excellent teaching. It bothers me no end that even teachers today use the subjective pronoun “I” in a compound object of a preposition; so do actors, news reporters and commentators, professionals et al. My granddaughter was taught by her mother to begin a sentence “I and John” rather than “me and John”. But alas, the other part of the lesson was neglected. And so she never starts a sentence with “me” but I have heard her say such things as “Come with Rick and I”. Grrrr!

  11. osni tadeu de oliveira:
    The title “Me Before You” is not a complete sentence. It is a fragment that implies “I Want to Die Before You” or “I don’t want you to die before me.” In these implied sentences, “before” is a preposition. Prepositions are correctly followed by object forms.

    Movie titles are a special case. “Me” is commonly used in them, probably because “me” is everybody’s favorite word. The producers could have chosen to name the movie “I Before You,” but I doubt that this title would appeal to many movie-goers. The word “me” is somehow more “solid” than the subject form “I.” And, in modern popular thought, “I” is perceived as somehow more “snooty” than “me.”

    To answer your question, using the object pronoun “me” as the subject of a main verb is nonstandard English, no matter who does it.

  12. I would liketo to know if it’s possible begin a sentence with “ME”. Because I watched a famous film that the title is “ME Before”You”
    Is it correct?

  13. Yes, just tonight, Jimmy Fallon said, “Me and my wife are so happy.” (about their new baby). I learned in GRADE SCHOOL (in the 50’s, when we actually learned something), not in high school or college, to separate the two subjects: “I am so happy” and “My wife is so happy.” Then combine them: “My wife (it’s more polite to mention the other person first and yourself last) and I are so happy.” But, as someone else commented, I guess they just don’t teach grammar anymore, because, I mean, like, it’s just not, like, cool or whatever.

  14. Amen, sister! Grammar in this country is atrocious! A California girl told me that grammar is not taught in school, she said you just have to pick it up on your own. Wha???

    Mercy! Bring back grammar classes! It annoys me to no end to hear misuse of “me” and “I”. Another one these days is misuse of the word “seen”. “I seen this yesterday.” Wha? Whatever happened to the word SAW?

    What a national tragedy…

  15. Kelly,
    I don’t know what the disconnect is. It seems to me that a “well-educated” person would have acquired and internalized the rudiments of standard English grammar.
    Maybe it has to do with the cult of celebrity. Perhaps people who know better would rather mimic the not-so-well-educated rich and famous than speak a form of English that’s associated with education. Americans talk a lot about “the importance of getting an education,” but what they mean is job-training. It’s too bad that so many Americans associate correct English with “the elite.” The ability to speak a standard form of English is is not difficult to attain, and it is an employment asset.

  16. Do you suppose it’s related to the phenomenon of intelligent, well-educated people using “I” as an object? I hear (and see on the internet) things like, “This is very important to Bob and I,” all the time, though they would never say or write, “This is very important to I.”

  17. Hear, hear.

    Goodbye evolution; hello devolution. I always thought there was something cockeyed with the idea of evolution.

    California is leading the way again! They’ve been devolving for years now and the rest of us are just now waking up to this new phenomenon. Where have we been? If we watched enough sports on the TV and listened to the interviews of the players (they’re almost all college graduates, you know, and, of course, they speak the latest and best English)we would have seen this coming sooner.

    Is there no way anyone else can beat them to the punch? How come they get to have all the fun?

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