When to Use I or Me

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'I' and 'me' are both first-person pronouns that a writer or speaker uses to refer to him or herself, but contrary to popular belief, one is not better than the other. Instead they just do different jobs, as 'I' replaces subjects and 'me' replaces objects.

You Think You're Better Than Me?

When a speaker or writer wants to refer to him or herself, and doesn't want to refer to their own name like an egomaniac, they use a pronoun, the class of words used to replace nouns when the noun is already known. Particularly, they use the first-person pronouns of 'I' and 'me'.

But when to use 'I' and when to use 'me'? Well, probably a few of you reading this are thinking, 'Duh, always use I. Only idiots use me, because everyone knows me is informal and using it makes you seem uneducated.' This is a common misconception, even repeated by English teachers from time to time, but it's totally untrue.

'I' is not better, more formal, or in any way superior to 'me'. Instead, they just do different jobs. 'I' is a subjective pronoun, while 'me' is an objective pronoun, and their usage depends on the structure of the sentence you are writing or speaking.

Subject and Object

Understanding this difference requires a little diversion into the parts of a sentence. We all know every sentence has to have a noun and a verb, or action word, but many sentences actually have at least two nouns: the subject (the thing doing the action) and the object (the thing receiving or having the action done to it). So let's take a look at an example:

Mary taught her dog to sit.

So 'taught' is clearly the verb, as it is the main action in the sentence. But who's doing the teaching? That's Mary, which makes her the subject of the sentence. And the dog, who is being taught, is the object.

Let's look at one more:

Abby bought groceries.

Same thing here. Abby is doing the buying, so she's the subject. The groceries are the object because they are being bought.

Subjective and Objective Pronouns

Some pronouns, like 'you', work whether the noun you are replacing is the subject or object. But the first-person class of pronouns has different subjective and objective pronouns. That's where 'I' and 'me' come in. 'I' is the subjective pronoun, so you use it in situations like this:

I got all A's last semester.

I love hip hop.

I am going to Spain this summer.

In all of these cases, the person speaking is doing the action, so 'I' is the pronoun used. For 'me', its just the opposite:

Rick sold me his car for $500.

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