If Janis Joplin’s song title, Me and Bobby McGee, makes you flinch, you might be an English teacher at heart. Or at least, you hear one’s voice in your head declaring, “Shouldn’t that be Bobby McGee and I?” When it comes to little old “me,” I’ve noticed that we seem to have lost our way. So, for the sake of good communication, the grammarians are here to help you out.
Or maybe you’re wondering, “Why does this even matter?” As communicators of the gospel, the way we write, speak, and teach matters. I have heard people completely discredit a thoughtful and beautiful sermon because they couldn’t get past a pastor’s bad grammar. So, it matters, because we want our communication of Jesus to be crystal clear. We want the actual gospel to be the only stumbling block and not our communication of it.
Choosing our Battles
For a long time, teachers of English grammar drilled down particularly hard on the use of “me and Bobby” or “me and . . . well, anyone.” When we heard a student say, “Me and Bobby went to the store,” we would immediately jump to the correction. We’d emphatically draw out the words, “Bobby and I. Not Bobby and me.” Usually, the student would nod his/her head and continue with, “Well, as I was saying, Me and Bobby were . . .”
We English grammarians are a hardy bunch, though, and we refuse to give up. We continued to drill in this correction diligently. We marked it in papers; we stopped students mid-sentence during grammar drills; we may even have engaged in the somewhat questionable practice of correcting a friend or family member’s grammar in mid-conversation. I wouldn’t recommend it, but the force is strong within us.
The problem is that we’ve done our job too well. Otherwise well-educated, articulate, and conversant folks have practically eliminated the phrase “Bobby and me” from their conversations and writing. Now, I flinch at the erroneous substitution of “Bobby and I” when “Bobby and me” is actually correct.
Back to the Basics
What’s funny is that almost no one, well-educated or not, uses “I” or “me” incorrectly when it’s the only pronoun in the sentence. For instance, no one out of the toddler stage ever says:
Me went to the store.
Me drew it.
Me is hungry.
That sounds weird to us. Regardless of our understanding of subjective and objective case, it just sounds weird, so we don’t overthink it. Most anyone who speaks English as a first language will instinctively use “I” in all those instances regardless of whether or not another person’s name is included. We instinctively say,
I went to the store.
I drew it.
I am hungry.
And for the most part, our grammar teachers have been successful in drilling out of us any tendency for “Me and Bobby went to the store, etc.” We correctly say:
Bobby and I went to the store.
Bobby and I drew it.
Bobby and I are hungry.
No one stops to ponder the place of “subject” or “object.” We just know. It just sounds right. Unfortunately, we’ve over-corrected our course regarding the use of “me.” Again, if “me” is the only pronoun in the sentence, our instinct takes over, and it is rarely misused.
This gift is for me.
This story is about me.
Could you hand me the book?
The mayor spoke with me today.
All correct. All relatively instinctive.
For some reason, including another name in the conversation seems to often result in some sort of grammatical blackout. We may hear our English teacher in our head or feel our Mom tapping us on the shoulder, and the echoes of “Bobby and I. Not Bobby and me. Bobby and I.” resound in our head. When that happens, here is what I see:
This gift is for Bobby and I.
This story is about Bobby and I.
Could you hand Bobby and I the book?
The mayor spoke with Bobby and I during lunch.
Wrong. Wrong in every single instance.
How it Works
What I used to tell my students is this, “Eliminate the other name. Put your thumb over it, literally or mentally. If “me” sounds correct to you when it is by itself, then it’s correct when you add “Bobby and” in front of it. Watch.
- This gift is for
- This story is about
- Could you hand
Bobby andme the book?
- The mayor spoke with
Bobby andme during lunch.
Correct. Correct in every single instance.
And for those who are wondering, Janis Joplin was correct also. Except for the word order, of course. But, as I said before, it’s poetry, so we’ll let that slide.
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee
Thus, as you speak, write, and post on social media, re-examine the use of “Bobby and I.” Sometimes, it’s just wrong. When in doubt, forget the English teacher’s voice shouting in your head. Just delete “Bobby and” for a second. If “me” sounds correct alone, it will be correct with “Bobby and.”
You wouldn’t say: You know, feelin' good was good enough for I.
So you don’t say: Good enough for I and my Bobby McGee.
Not even if you changed the word order: Good enough for Bobby McGee and I.
That would just be wrong.