Something happens to us in grade school. We lose our natural sense of what’s right or wrong in English and come to rely on rules instead. One of the first rules we learn makes us do crazy things for the rest of our lives. Maybe you just came in from outside, flushed and excited.
“Me and Charlie were down by the creek catching nightcrawlers,” you begin.
“Charlie and I,” says your Aunt Mildred, a retired second-grade teacher from Mt Sterling, Ohio.
This has happened before. You suddenly know that any hope of communicating the enthusiasm, the unmitigated joy, the pure delight, of looking for nightcrawlers and finding instead a three-foot serpent has been lost. Aunt Mildred launches into a lecture of which you hear only one refrain: “Never use ‘me’ when speaking of yourself and another person, and always put yourself second.”
“Charlie and I,” you repeat dully. The moment is forever lost.
Even Aunt Mildred, shocked as she was at hearing such disgraceful grammar from an eight-year-old, would have to admit that “Charlie and I” is not a catch-all for speaking of yourself and Charlie. You might have been pursued by a dragon, for example, while you and Charlie were playing with your little sister. ” The dragon chased Charlie and me,” you say, “and we led it far away from Sally.”
But somehow now it doesn’t sound right. Somehow you’ve got it into your head that “I” always follows “and” no matter what role the words play in the sentence. How can you tell when to use “I” and when to use “me?”
Simple. Drop “Charlie and.” If it’s a sentence you would still say, then you’re probably on the right track.
The dragon chased Charlie and I.
The dragon chased
The dragon chased I. Oops!
The dragon chased Charlie and me.
Just between you and
I me, if you apply this trick to your writing, you will rarely go wrong. And you will save yourself some embarrasment when the grammar cop pulls you over for using the wrong case pronoun for the object of a verb or preposition.