Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)

by Liz Walter

Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Pronouns are words we use instead of nouns in order to avoid repeating the nouns. Compare the following:

Laura picked up the book. Laura gave the book to Zalie.

Laura picked up the book. She gave it to Zalie.

We use pronouns when we have already mentioned a person or thing, or when it is obvious who or what they are.

The most common pronouns are personal pronouns – pronouns that refer to people or things. The most important thing to remember about these is that (with the exception of you and it), they are different according to whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence.

For example:

Alex saw Harry./ He saw him.

Alex (he) is the subject of the sentence, and Harry (him) is the object. The subject personal pronouns are: I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they. The object personal pronouns are: me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them.

Here is another example:

Emma wouldn’t give the money to Paul and Tom./ She wouldn’t give it to them.

When you are talking about yourself and another person it can be tricky to know when to say  I and when to say me. The simple rule is to use the pronoun you would use if you were only writing about yourself:

Lara and I got married last year.

 Gerry came with Kate and me.

One very common error for learners of English is to use a noun and a pronoun to refer to the same person or thing in the same clause. Remember that you should use one or the other, not both. If you are not sure if you need a pronoun, try replacing it with the whole noun and see if the sentence still makes sense:

The weather it is good today.

The weather is good today.

My friend she moved to Paris.

My friend moved to Paris.

To show who something belongs to, we use the possessive determiners, also known as possessive adjectives: my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their. These aren’t pronouns because they don’t replace a noun, but we usually learn them together with other pronouns because they are so closely related:

Is this your coat?

Where is my phone?

Never try to form a possessive with of and a personal pronoun:

I saw the brother of her.

I saw her brother.

The pronouns for possessives are as follows: mine, yours, his, hers, ours, yours, theirs:

You can’t have that cake – it’s mine!

Is this pen yours?

I’ll end this post with a word of warning – pronouns probably cause more spelling mistakes than any other words! For example, be careful not to confuse its (belonging to it) and it’s (it is), or your (belonging to you) and you’re (you are). For more help on this aspect of pronouns, see my post ‘There, their and they’re – which one should you use?’

In my next post, I will discuss some other types of pronoun, such as reflexive pronouns and the common words all and both.

44 thoughts on “Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)

  1. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you, Liz! Your post is very helpful for adults who start learning English. Russian learners have a lot of problems with different English pronouns because they tend to make use of Russian grammar patterns. So we have to do a great number of exercises before our students learn how to use pronouns in the right way. The most difficult for Russians are reflexive pronouns. I’m looking forward to your next post.

  2. Rodrigo

    Hi Liz, I love your grammar posts! They’re often enlightening. I’d like to inquiry though about this construction which I constantly stumble upon, but am never sure what’s behind it / how to use it:

    “She’s a friend _of mine_.”

    or

    “That’s not a fault _of mine_ these days.” (that’s a song lyrics)

    Is that considered standard English? Is it informal? Is there a rule to know when/how to use that construction? Beats me!

    Ta!

    1. Liz Walter

      Yes, that is correct, standard English. We use possessive pronouns after ‘of’. So we would say: ‘She’s a friend of his.’ (not ‘of him’). Or ‘That’s a habit of theirs’.

      1. Rodrigo

        Thank you very much! I echo the question below, though: is there a semantic difference between “She’s his friend” and “She’s a friend of his”? Thank!

  3. honoka

    Thank you for your posting such a great theme!! As a English learner, it is always easy to make mistakes with proper pronoun use! I am looking forward to seeing your next post!

    1. Tuan Chu

      “I” is used as the subject of a verb and “me” is used as the object of a verb.
      Ex:
      – I love Sarah. (“I” is the subject which performs the action “love”)
      – Sarah loves me. (“me” is the object which receives the action “love”)

  4. Haca

    Thank you, Liz for such useful piece of information, though I still find it a bit confusing when I should use I and me. Would be very grateful if you provide some additional explanation. Thanks in advance!

  5. Pingback: Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1) - Editorials Today

  6. Pingback: Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1) – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Feb 15, 2017) | Editorial Words

  7. Ratnayake

    Dear Liz, Your blog is really instrumental for the folks who use English as their second language.It would be great if you can explain a bit more about using I and me in sentences with few more examples .Best of luck to you and your team for your endeavour to widen our knowledge various language patterns .

  8. Liz Walter

    Thank you, Cambridge Words! The basic rule is that ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence: I am a teacher. ‘Me’ is the object ‘Tom hit me.’

  9. Hava

    Thanks to Cambridge Words I’ve realised that my gut feeling was guiding me in the right way. So according to the stuff written we can simply say: my friend and I and that would be correct, even though I keep on hearing: someone and me or me and someone. Amazing! Thank you all!

    1. Liz Walter

      Well ‘My friend and I’ is only correct if you would say ‘I’ if it was just you: ‘My friend and I like jazz.’ But if you would say ‘me’ if it was just you, then you have to say ‘my friend and me’: ‘He offered to buy a ticket for my friend and me.’

  10. Liz Walter

    PS It is true that many people always say ‘Me and my friend like jazz.’ – it’s not a terrible crime in informal, spoken English, but for written English you should use the correct form.

  11. S.N. RANA

    Thank you Liz for posting this pretty useful lesson. I appreciate it. This is the first time, I’m making a comment here. But, I’ve so far read several lessons in the Cambridge blog. I’m an enthusiastic learner who has a thirst for learning English decently. Besides, I firmly believe that this lesson will come in handy in preparing myself for taking IELTS exam. However, I’m eagerly waiting for your next one.

  12. Pingback: Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1) — About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog | cavalierzee

    1. Example:
      “What is your name?”
      “I’m John.” “My name is John.” “I’m Mr. Smith.”
      “Where are you from?”
      “I’m from England.” “I come from Edinburgh.” “I live here in France.”

  13. Aswathi

    Thanks for this wonderful post…What I liked the most in this post is the word of warning about the spelling mistake that most people make …:)

  14. Over here in the USA, saying things such as,

    Give a copy of The Federalist Papers to Ellen and I,

    or

    Me and Bill are going to see Hamlet,

    seems to be approaching the norm among young, college educated, native English speakers, at least in my experience. Evolution or degradation? 😂

    1. Tuan Chu

      Languages changes everyday. Consider it as a different English, it would not be correct grammatically but the speaker and listener can understand each other, that is the most important thing in communicating.

  15. Liz Walter

    To people who asked about the difference between ‘his friend’ and ‘a friend of his’ – the difference is extremely subtle and you don’t really need to worry about it. Both are fine. But ‘a friend of his’ sounds a little bit more general – it really doesn’t matter who the friend is and you don’t expect the listener to know the person. With ‘his friend’, it is possible (but not always the case) that the listener knows who the person is, or it may be that you can see the friend with him at the time when you are speaking. Hope that helps.

  16. Ken, S L.

    Hello Liz,
    Thanks for all of your most informative contributions, what a ‘ language treat ‘, you are.

    I recently, needed to use the words ” ought to “, in one of my writings, but ignorantly wrote ” aught to “.
    Aught sounded prettier, at the time and I later discovered it did not fit.

    Perhaps you can do a lesson on the differences between ‘ aught vs ought ‘, and similar confusions.

    Ken, S L.

  17. Stefi

    Dear Liz, thank you so much for amazing texts. While I was checking some words on Cambridge dictionary I spotted an interesting title and dicovered the blog. Since then I come to read your texts which balance my need for knowledge, good English grammar and important facts I haven’t noticed before.

  18. Pingback: All, both, and everyone: How to use pronouns (2) – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

  19. Nancy

    Hello, Liz.. I feel a little confused between ‘myself’ and ‘by myself’ like in these examples: ‘She fixed her car by herself.
    ‘He never does his homework himself’
    ‘We prepared and cooked the five-course meal ourselves’
    ‘The children made the entire meal by themselves’
    Could you please explain why sometimes we use ‘by myself’ and sometimes we use ‘myself’ to give the same meaning?

    1. Liz Walter

      Hi Nancy. They are very similar and the difference is rather subtle. We tend to use ‘by’ in cases where it’s rather surprising that someone was able to do something, for example a child getting dressed ‘by herself’. So in fact, your examples about cooking are perfect – for ‘We prepared and cooked the five-course meal ourselves’, you’re emphasizing that the food wasn’t bought (and maybe that you’ve taken an unusual amount of effort), but you’re not saying that it’s particularly surprising that you were able to do it, whereas it would be rather surprising for children to make an entire meal.

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