Monday, May 17, 2010

For Me and My Gal

First Lady Michelle Obama almost always speaks with impeccable grammar, but, sad to say, in a recent speech in Haiti, she lapsed into the peccable. Commenting on the visit that she and the Second Lady (Dr. Jill Biden) were making to the earthquake-ravaged land, Mrs. Obama said: "It was important for Jill and I to come now….”

Well, of course, me and you know that she meant “Jill and me.”  The preposition for takes the objective case (me).  No one would say “It was important for I to come now.”  But when another pronoun or a noun is inserted first, there is a tendency to make the pronoun nominative.  The grammarian Henry Sweet in 1882 explained the phenomenon that first occurred in English centuries ago:
            “Usage was more unsettled than now, the nominative being as freely                     
            substituted for the objective as vice-versa, as in such constructions as ‘tween you and
            I.  You and I were so frequently joined together as nominatives—you and I will go   
            together, etc.—that the three words formed a sort of group compound, whose last 
            element became invariable.” 
The fact that you is both nominative and objective certainly contributes to the confusion.   

It’s a very common error that most of us—that is, you and I—have probably made unthinkingly.  In fact Mrs. Obama is in very good company—including William Shakespeare, who has the usually grammatically precise Othello saying: “Yes, you may have seen Cassio and she together.”

Between thee and me, not to mention thou and I, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou begs to be heard, and he has penned this impeccable verse for you and I, as well as they and them, to enjoy: 

           Michelle Obama
           Can deal with a comma
           And parse a long sentence
           Just like the best of us.

           But sometimes her objective
           May be slightly defective
           And she feels repentance
           Along with the rest of us.


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