Everybody who has studied the English language knows that there are grammatical rules for the proper use of the pronouns “you”, “me” and “I” depending on what you are trying to say. And yet, there has been for some time a great controversy over the phrases, “between you and I” and “between you and me”.
First let’s take a hard look at the the basic rules of English grammar: the words you, I, and me are all pronouns. They stand in for nouns like Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot. Pronouns can be subjects, objects, or possessive. The subject of a sentence is the agent taking action, and the object is the thing or person being acted upon. If I say, “I love you,” I am the subject (the one doing the loving), and you are the object (the target of my love and the object of my affection). I remember understanding this very clearly when I was in primary school. No big deal.
If you have spoken English for a long time, you probably know that I is a subject pronoun, and me is an object pronoun. If you are learning English, you just have to memorize it. Things begin to get tricky when when you combine I and me with you because you is both a subjective and an objective pronoun. It’s one of those confusing things that just isn’t fair. Whether it is in the subject or the object position, you still use the word you. You love Jane and Jane loves you. They are both correct.
That seems pretty straightforward. So now we can move on to “Between You and I” and figure out why it’s wrong. And this is where the controversy begins, since the days of William Shakespeare to this very day.
Between is a preposition, just as on, above, over, and of, are all prepositions. Because prepositions usually either describe a relationship, or show possession, they don’t act alone; they often answer questions like Where? and When?
So, instead of acting alone, prepositions are part of prepositional phrases. Thus, between you and me is a prepositional phrase. And it’s just a rule that pronouns following prepositions are always in the objective case. When you’re using the objective case, the correct pronoun is me, so the correct prepositional phrase is between you and me. That was well and good until William Shakespeare came along and started a controversy that is still going on even as we speak.
The writer whose English is so inflexibly correct that it never violates the laws is very likely a writer who will not be published until he learns when to break the laws painstakingly learned and dares to say, ”In this case, wrong is better.” Sometimes correct English is wrong and wrong English is right.
Below is the slip of the quibble written by William Shakespeare in Act Three, Scene II of The Merchant of Venice:
“Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, my bond to the Jew is forfeit, and since in paying it, it is impossible I should live, all the debts are cleared between you and I, if I might but see you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your pleasure: if your love do not persuade you to come, let not my letter.”
Grammatically, of course, Shakespeare was wrong. He should have written ”between you and me.” The grammar rule is quite plain. ”Between” is a preposition. The object of a preposition must be in the accusative (or objective) case. The accusative form of the first-person-singular pronoun is ”me.” Therefore, the correct phrase is ”between you and me.” It is considered standard English which follows the basic rules of grammar.
The use of the phrase “between you and I” was very frequent during the end of the 16th and 17th century, but is now considered ungrammatical. Yet, many English-speaking people to this day, consider this phrase as a polite expression, and has been used since Middle English. It is universally used in common spoken English. I understand even Mark Twain used it in his writings.
I must acknowledge that, whether we like it or not, the English language is very dynamic, and will change with usage. English is an evolving language. We all know it’s adding words furiously, not to mention idioms. A few years ago, a majority of people didn’t say “back in the day.” Now you hardly ever hear “back in the old days.” Please don’t tell anybody; this is strictly “between you and me and the lamppost”.
Oh, one more thing… Shakespeare also used the phrase “between you and me”. Good Day.