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You and I

October 24, 2013

 In today’s Independent, Jeremy Laurance wrote: ‘But this, as ever, leaves you and I in a tricky position’. This is an error that makes me grit my teeth. I’m very surprised to see Jeremy Laurance making it as well, since he’s a very experienced journalist and usually a good writer. How can he not know the rule – how can anyone whose trade is words not know the rule – that you and I is used where I alone would be correct, and you and me is used where me alone would be correct? (Apologies to him, by the way, if he wrote the correct form and then an over-zealous sub ‘corrected’ it; it can and does happen.) To test, just take the you and away. ‘But this, as ever, leaves I in a tricky position.’ Doesn’t work, does it?

Jeremy Laurance, or the over-zealous sub, is far from being the first person to make this mistake. It’s a form of hyper-correction, used when the writer/speaker wants to sound especially formal and correct, an intention which sadly backfires. Bill Clinton’s slogan when campaigning for re-election was ‘Give Al Gore and I a chance.’ Amazing that so clever and highly educated a man didn’t know this was a mistake: but perhaps he did know, and thought it would play well with voters all the same. In  The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker defends Clinton for this solecism, on the grounds, if I remember correctly, that you and I is understood as a unit, a single phrase, rather than two separate pronouns. I admire Steven Pinker greatly but I really don’t buy that at all. To me this is just a hideous mistake, which distracts from what is being said – like someone playing a crashingly wrong note in a piano piece.

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