Misuse of the pronouns me, myself and I causes much annoyance to those who read or hear the error, but figuring out the correct form to use is really very simple.
I am ashamed to say that many of the perpetrators of the misuse of me, myself and I are the English themselves. I must assume that the error occurs because people err on the side of formality and use myself instead of me and the compound construction and I instead of and me because they think these are the more polite forms.
But there is no formal pronoun form of me (unlike in French where vous is used in place of tu when addressing you formally).
It is true that the gender-neutral pronoun one has formal connotations, but even the Queen restrains herself from using the “Royal one” these days, and so shall I. Discussing it here would, anyway, open up a whole new can of worms relating to its non-pronoun uses and seeing as it is largely irrelevant for our purposes of correcting the use of me, myself and I, one will not be discussed further.
Back to the main theme of using me, myself and I:
In short, using myself instead of me is wrong, and using and I instead of and me is wrong in some compound constructions (object forms).
Leaving myself aside for now, figuring out when to use me or I in a compound construction is really quite easy. It simply depends on whether you are part of a compound subject (you are doing the thing) or part of a compound object (you are being affected by the thing). In short:
In a compound subject — use I
In a compound object — use me
Of course, no-one goes around analysing their daily conversation for subjects and objects, so an even simpler way of identifying whether to use me or I in a compound construction is to split it up and consider you on your own in the first person (as me or I). If the new sentence doesn’t make sense or sound right, you are using the wrong pronoun. It’s as simple as that.
This method of considering the components separately will work with any example of compound construction you throw at it. Take a look at these:
In this example, you and the King join together to form a compound subject:
The King danced around the room ✔
I danced around the room ✔
The King and I danced around the room ✔
That all makes sense, whereas this is clearly wrong:
Me danced around the room ✘
The King and me danced around the room ✘
We can also construct this:
We danced around the room ✔
The King and I, we danced around the room ✔
Now you will form part of a compound object:
Dancing was not customary for the King ✔
Dancing was not customary for I ✘
Dancing was not customary for the King and I ✘
Dancing was not customary for me ✔
Dancing was not customary for the King and me ✔
Dancing was not customary for us ✔
Dancing was not customary for us, the King and me ✔
It was not customary for the King to dance ✔
It was not customary for I to dance ✘
It was not customary for the King and I to dance ✘
It was not customary for me to dance ✔
It was not customary for the King and me to dance ✔
It was not customary for us to dance ✔
It was not customary for us, the King and me, to dance ✔
Now go and enjoy the movie that should probably be called The King and Me.
Let’s look at the chorus of the One Direction song ‘You and I’ to see whether the compound constructions are being used correctly. Again, we need to consider plural pronouns we (you and I) and us (you and me) to test this:
“You and I, we don’t wanna be like them
We can make it ’til the end
Nothing can come between you and I
Not even the Gods above
Can separate the two of us
No, nothing can come between you and I”
Take the first line:
You don’t wanna be like them ✔
I don’t wanna be like them ✔
We don’t wanna be like them ✔
You and I, we don’t wanna be like them ✔
So far, so good. Now the last line:
Nothing can come between you and I [we] ✘
Nothing can come between you and me [us] ✔
So the third and sixth lines in the chorus fail the test, but using this incorrect form in the song means the chorus ends the same way it began. It’s a pleasant enough little roundabout, so let’s leave it there and move on. You can watch the video here.
Here’s a similar example, courtesy of Lady Gaga and her song ‘Yoü and I’ (aka ‘You and I’):
“You and I, you, you and I
Nebraska, I’d rather die without you and I”
Nebraska, I’d rather die without you and I [we] ✘
Nebraska, I’d rather die without you and me [us] ✔
Another fail. But if Lady Gaga prefers it that way, so be it. You can watch the video here.
Now for a Billy Paul classic:
“Me and Mrs Jones, we got a thing goin’ on”
Me got a thing goin’ on ✘
Mrs Jones got a thing goin’ on ✔
Me and Mrs Jones got a thing goin’ on ✘
We got a thing goin’ on ✔
Me and Mrs Jones, we got a thing goin’ on ✘
Ignoring the obvious error in the verb, we know the following pronoun is correct:
I got a thing goin’ on ✔
But this is not correct:
I and Mrs Jones got a thing goin’ on ✘
Because the thing going on here is that that we must mind our manners, so we write:
Mrs Jones and I got a thing goin’ on ✔
And the correct form is:
Mrs Jones and I, we got a thing goin’ on ✔
But this is not catchy anymore, so Billy Paul is also forgiven for the misuse.
Countless covers of this song have been recorded over the years, but I will go for Daryl Hall’s 1994 version (live in Tokyo), not just for his velvety smooth vocal tones, but also for his gloriously golden tousled waves.
Here is an example from a Doctor Who script (Series 10, Episode 5, ‘Oxygen’). Just as The Doctor is about to be dealt the death touch by a corpse suit, the dialogue reads:
THE DOCTOR: What?
NARDOLE: It’s Bill.
THE DOCTOR: Of course it’s Bill. Fate and me, we have a thing.
If we consider the pronouns separately, we have:
Fate has a thing ✔
Me has a thing ✘
We have a thing ✔
I have a thing ✔
Fate and I have a thing ✔
Fate and I, we have a thing ✔
So, The Doctor’s line should read:
Of course it’s Bill. Fate and I, we have a thing.
With the above dialogue, it is feasible that the writers wanted this incarnation of The Doctor (David Tenant) to speak that way. But it is grammatically incorrect.
You can read the full script here.
So to summarise, this method of splitting up a phrase or sentence and seeing what makes sense (or not) will work with any example of compound construction you throw at it, so there is no excuse for using me and I incorrectly ever again.
What about myself?
I’ll be brief with this pronoun. There are two legal constructions for the use of the word myself – one as a reflexive pronoun and the other for emphasis. Anything else is wrong:
Example 1 – Use as a reflexive pronoun (always OK):
I managed to restrain myself from using too many examples in this article. ✔
Check out the lyrics to the classic Talking Heads song, Once In A Lifetime – an excellent example of the use of reflexive pronouns.
Example 2 – Use for emphasis (if you must):
Although using myself in the following way is a legal construction, it can come across as pompous:
I myself don’t see why it is necessary to use this type of emphasis. ✔✘
It is also clear by using I that you are the person saying it, which means myself is superfluous and completely unnecessary.
Example 3 – Use in compound constructions (NEVER):
This is an example for yourself and other readers. ✘
This is an example for you and other readers. ✔
All examples were chosen by myself to help explain the rules. ✘
All examples were chosen by me to help explain the rules. ✔
The takeaway message using compound constructions is that you should always use the objective pronoun (e.g. you, me, …) rather than the reflexive pronoun (yourself, myself, …).
I hope this article on the use of me, myself and I has been helpful, or at least provided some entertainment. I think we can agree that for personal pronouns set to music, anything goes.
To finish up, here are a few aptly entitled songs from different decades: