I or me

When to use “I” and “me” in English

English is complicated, whether you’re a native speaker or a new learner. One of the most common grammar mistakes everyone makes is mixing up “I” and “me.”

In general, “I” is used when the speaker is taking an action while “me” is used when the speaker is experiencing an action. The same applies when “I” and “me” are used as part of a plural noun phrase, and there’s an easy trick to figure out which to use.

Let’s explore the proper use of these pronouns.

Understanding Pronouns in English

Both “I” and “me” fall in the part of speech category of pronouns, which are words that describe a specific noun. They’re used to:

  • Indicate a previously mentioned noun,
  • Indicate an implied noun
  • Define possession

Pronouns are separated into categories. Any give pronoun has a “person” (point of view) and is either plural or singular. From there, pronouns are subdivided into either subject or object referential or possessive. Here’s a quick reference chart.

Point of View Singular Subject Plural Subject Singular Object Plural Object Singular Possessive Plural Possessive
1st Person (The speaker of a sentence) I We Me Us My Our
2nd Person (The sentence is being spoken to this person.) You You You You Your Your
3rd Person (The sentence is being spoken about this person, but not to them.) He/She/They They Him/Her/Them Them His/Her/Their Their

 

Subject versus Object Pronouns

The subject of a sentence is the party, either a person or thing, performing the main action. The object is the party to whom the action is happening.

Take for example the following sentence.

  • Rachel calls Robert.

“Rachel” is the subject of this sentence, as she performing the action – she is calling. “Robert” is the object of this sentence because the action is happening to him – he is being called.

Pronouns can take the place of nouns, so let’s replace them.

  • She calls him.

The sentence structure hasn’t changed, but the nouns are now implied rather than directly stated. “She” took the place of “Rachel,” so “She” is the subject. The same applies to the object – “him” took the place of “Robert,” so “him” is the object.

In English, “I” is a subject pronoun while “me” is an object pronoun.

Using “I” in English

According to our reference chart, “I” is the first person singular subject pronoun. This means that, in any sentence where the noun performing an action has the point of view of the speaker, you use the pronoun “I.” Let’s look at an example sentence. Learn more about how to use “I” as a possessive here.

  • I need this book.

In this example, “I” is the subject – the speaker is performing the action of needing. Here are a few more examples.

  • Did I take the trash out today? 
  • I want to go to the park.

The speaker in these sentences (the noun referenced by “I”) performs all the actions (“take” and “want”).

Using “Me” in English

“Me,” according to the chart, is the first person singular object pronoun. That means in any sentence where the noun that the action is happening to has the point of view of the speaker, you use the pronoun “me.” Here’s an example.

  • Sarah told me.

“Sarah” is the subject of the sentence – she’s the one telling. The action of “told” is happening to the speaker, so the pronoun used is “me.” Here are some more examples.

  • Can you help me move this?
  • Sam gave me a hug.

The speaker in these sentences (the noun referenced by “me”) is having actions happen to them (“help,” and “gave”).

Using “I” and “Me” in a Plural Noun Phrase

A plural noun phrase is a group of nouns being referenced together by a single verb. When it comes to using “I” and “me” as parts of noun phrases, it’s important to remember which part of the sentence the phrase appears in – the subject or the object.

There’s an easy trick to telling which pronoun to use; if you completely remove the other parts of the noun phrase, the sentence should still be grammatically correct.

Here’s an example. In these sentences, “swim” is the action being taken, so the noun phrase is the subject.

  • John, Jane, and me swim well. This is incorrect because if you remove “John, Jane, and,” the sentence reads as “Me swim well.”
  • John, Jane, and I swim well. This is correct. Without the other parts of the noun phrase, it reads “I swim well.”

You can do the exact same thing for object noun phrases.

Conclusion

“I” and “me” are easy to confuse at first. They’re both first-person singular pronouns. The distinction of subject and object is a more subtle difference, but it can be easily adjusted if you know what you’re looking for.