Author Topic: Setting the matter straight on the “not me” vs. “not I” usage  (Read 8255 times)

Joe Carillo

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In my recent review of the repeated action words, I gave this prescription in the Forum for using “not” as one such word:

‘Not.’ Negation of a statement can be done very efficiently by this repeated action word: ‘Most think that going to Baguio City at this time of year is great; not me.’”

Of course, without the benefit of ellipsis—a grammar device for making sentences more compact—and the use of “not” as repeated action word, that sentence takes this insufferably long-winded form: “Most think that going to Baguio City at this time of year is great; I don’t think that going to Baguio City at this time of year is great.”




That’s clear, undebatable grammar, but a Forum member based in Texas who calls herself Cherlang—she says she’s a grammar interventionist/ student teacher supervisor in a state university—made this comment about my use of “me” in the example I presented:

“During my first year of teaching over 40 years ago, a very proper older teacher corrected me on something similar, saying my response should have been ‘Not I.’ Would you set me straight on why ‘Not me’ in your example is correct, please?”

I told Cherlang that I’m very comfortable with my use of the objective pronoun “me” in that sentence. I explained that although grammar prescriptivists insist on the nominative pronoun “I” in such constructions, I routinely use “me” because it’s better-sounding and more spontaneous. This is particularly the case in less formal writing and speech—the kind of English where the sentence “Most think that going to Baguio City at this time of year is great; not me” obviously belongs.

Indeed, like the English-usage writer Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, I consider the use of “me” in such constructions as now standard English. I therefore quoted in full Ms. O’Conner’s defense of the grammatical correctness of the “me” usage in her Grammarphobia website, where she invoked the authority of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

Ms. O’Conner’s point is this: “The nominative pattern (‘It is I’) is generally used in formal English, but the objective (‘It is me’) is universally and legitimately used in less formal writing and speech.”

To dispel any further doubt about the legitimacy of my use of “not me,” I then invoked this usage note of the online Oxford Dictionaries:

“Where a personal pronoun is used alone without the context of a verb or a preposition… the traditional analysis (of the subjective and objective usage of the personal pronouns) starts to break down. Traditionalists sometimes argue, for example, that ‘she’s younger than me and ‘I’ve not been here as long as her are incorrect and that the correct forms are ‘she’s younger than I and ‘I’ve not been here as long as she.’ This is based on the assumption that ‘than’ and ‘as’ are conjunctions and so the personal pronoun is still subjective even though there is no verb (in full form it would be ‘she’s younger than I am). Yet for most native speakers the supposed ‘correct’ form does not sound natural at all and is almost never used in speech. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that, in modern English, those personal pronouns listed above as being objective are used neutrally—i.e. they are used in all cases where the pronoun is not explicitly subjective. From this it follows that, despite the objections of prescriptive grammarians (whose arguments are based on Latin rather than English), it is standard accepted English to use any of the following: ‘Who is it? It’s me!’; ‘she’s taller than him; ‘I didn’t do as well as her.’

I think we can reliably take that usage advisory as the last word on this matter. (2012)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the August 4, 2012 issue of The Manila Times, © 2012 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2018, 05:33:18 PM by Joe Carillo »

Michael E. Galario

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Re: Setting the matter straight on the “not me” vs. “not I” usage
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2018, 09:40:28 PM »
The problem with the case usage lies on the idea that some prescriptivists would always insist all the rules of writing in speaking without, maybe, understanding that in the history of the language, human learned how to speak first before writing, and only then was the language got codified. We never speak the way we write.  
« Last Edit: January 07, 2018, 09:53:01 PM by Michael E. Galario »
"The only thing that's worse than not knowing how to do something is to do something wrong while believing that it's right."

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Joe Carillo

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Re: Setting the matter straight on the “not me” vs. “not I” usage
« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2018, 10:14:07 AM »
You're absolutely right, Michael! English is truly a multifaceted, expressive language, but it has a vexing, built-in grammatical problem of having had a centuries' long dalliance with Latin syntax with all its perplexing complexities. We have to live with residues and vestiges of that forever, for good or bad!

Michael E. Galario

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Re: Setting the matter straight on the “not me” vs. “not I” usage
« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2018, 02:34:24 PM »
Exactly, sir Joe!

The case presented is just one of the so many issues in the English language usage which throw the second language learners into an intellectual and emotional tailspin. The differing perspectives of language authorities and the existence of English varieties make it difficult for the second language learners to accurately position themselves in their L2 learning and acquisition. One would tell them how something is done; however, in reality, the spoken form and the common usage contradict or defy what is prescribed or taught. These are just one of the very reasons why the field of linguistics was born, and that is to describe scientifically the very intricate nature of the language and account for every possible linguistic variation because the real score is no one has ever documented all the features of the English language.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2018, 02:57:30 PM by Michael E. Galario »
"The only thing that's worse than not knowing how to do something is to do something wrong while believing that it's right."

Remember: We may know something but definitely not everything.