This blog tries to be
a home for those who enjoyed posting
on the old BBC Word of Mouth Message board
— and anybody else with an interest in language.

If you want to start a new discussion, please do one of the following:

• Add your new point as a comment here (Click)
• Become a follower and email your text to me.

REMEMBER Before you compose a posting Sign in (Top Right)
Before you publish Save your text somewhere (as a precaution)

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Hastening demise of I?

Andy Coulson
On Newsnight just now a Conservative politician told Kirsty Wark that judging the possibility of criminal acts by Andy Coulson was 
"not for you or I"
Now this could be explained as a simple extension of the creeping increase of "for you and I". And one of the usual explanations of this is that 
you and I is a 'conjoined' unit, of which only the first pronoun takes the objective case form — for example for him and  or for them and I. You can hardly call the phrase you or I  'conjoined', but it is, arguable, a unit.

However, this can't explain the politician's grammatical choice. Earlier, He's told Kirsty that judgement of Ady Coulson's activities was
"not for you or for I".

This could well be a signal of the future of English grammar. Accusative and dative case forms long ago disappeared from nouns — leaving a small rump of 'objective case' forms for 
  • some personal pronouns (me him her us them and related himself herself themselves)
  • the pronoun that doubles as interrogative and relative (whom)
It's well known that whom is becoming rare in speech, and expressions like between you and I are on the increase. It looks to me as if objective case forms like me  might be reducing still further to the status of first mention only.


  1. It seems to me, David, that for some reason these forms have got themselves round the wrong way. People now use 'me' as the nominative with another person. Never I think on its own - only babies say "Me go too." (That's not absolutely true - I would be quite capable of saying 'Me come too' but that is with my baby talk on, which is quite often. Real adults don't use 'me' on its own at the start of a sentence.)

    But "You and me can go to the shop now" is at least as common as "You and I can go to the shop now". And "You and I" as the object seems very frequent. But for all that you mention the phrase "not for you and not for I", I don't think it is at all usual for I to be used on its own. I don't think he would have said, "Judging the possibility of criminal acts is not for I." Although he split the I and you, it still needed the you to be there for him to use that construction.

    Cheers, Caro.

  2. I argued several times on the old WoM Board that I is not now a nominative form — if, indeed, it ever was.

    In languages with proper nominative case forms, they're used for words referring to the same entity as the subject. In Russian, for example, the sentence Это был я — eto byl ya consists of

    1. это (eto) — a pronoun meaning 'this' or 'that'
    2. был (by) — a verb meaning 'was' (after a singular subject)
    3. я (ya) — nominative first person singular pronoun

    The subject of the sentence is [1]. What the subject refers to is the speaker of the sentence. And [3] also refers to the speaker of the sentence, but without being the subject of the sentence. The grammar books that I respect call it the complement of the sentence (more narrowly the subject complement).

    Consider another Russian sentence: Я был там — ya byl tam, meaning 'I was there'. The sentence consists of:

    1a. я (ya) — same as [3] above
    2а. был (byl) — same as [2] above
    3a. там (tam) — an adverb meaning 'there'

    In this second sentence [1a] is clearly the subject. So we can say, in Russian nominative forms such as я (ya) are used both for the subject and for the (subject) complement.

    Contrast this with French.

    C'était moi 'It's me', consisting of

    1. ce — a pronoun meaning 'this' or 'that' or 'it'
    2. était — meaning 'was' (with a third person singular subject)
    3. moi —a first person singular pronoun

    J'étais là 'I was there', consisting of:

    1a. je — a different first person pronoun
    2a. étais — meaning 'was' (with a first person singular subject)
    3a. — an adverb meaning 'there'

    In French je is used only as a subject pronoun not as a subject complement.

    English sometimes uses I as a subject complement, but very few of us say It was I except in very careful self-conscious speech.

    I have to make a break here...

  3. Continued from the message marked as 04:28 (actually 12:28 here in the UK)

    In both French and English there are

    1. what we might call a WEAK pronouns used as subjects:
    French: je, tu, il, ils
    English: I, he, she, we, they

    2. what we might call STRONG pronouns used as after prepositions
    French: moi, toi, lui, eux
    English: me, him, her, us, them

    3. what we might call STRONGER STILL pronouns used for emphasis in both languages and as reflexive pronouns in English
    French: moi même etc
    English: myself etc

    [other pronouns are used
    — either as subjects or objects
    French: nous, vous
    English: you
    — either as subjects or after prepositions
    French: elle, elles]

    English also uses the STRONG pronouns me, him, her, us, them as objects. But French has a second set of WEAK pronouns me, te, le, la, les.

    The terms STRONG, WEAK and STRONGER STILL are my own invention. I find them useful in trying to explain what's happening in English.

    Me and Jim can go
    STRONG pronoun for first word of subject
    Jim and I can go
    WEAK pronoun for last word of subject
    for me and you
    STRONG form for first word of phrase after preposition
    for you and I
    WEAK form for last word of phrase after preposition

    The sentence Me and Jim can go and the phrase for you and I are both non-standard, but both very common. I believe that in my lifetime the former has always been common, while the latter has become more common in recent years — but I may be wrong.

    I also believe that for you or I is not yet common — still less for you or for I. But my guess is that phrases like this will be increasingly common in future years.

    QUOTE But "You and me can go to the shop now" is at least as common as "You and I can go to the shop now". UNQUOTE

    I don't think I hear You and me can go to the shops now at all often. Not as often as Me and you can go and certainly not as often as You and I can go.

  4. Looks as if I've managed to get back in after all.

    The effirt has so exhausted me that I'll have to have a rest before I post anything.

  5. Congratulations and welcome, Jean!