Hi everyone, I'm new here and loving it! I have lots of questions, but this is my first. Sorry this post is so long.

My problem is the pervasive misuse of "I" by very smart business people. I know that this isn't the forum to try to fix the world's uses, my question is how to handle it. My fear is that when I employ correct usage I will be judged, incorrectly, as having bad grammar.

INCORRECT - Between you and I.
CORRECT - Between you and me.

INCORRECT - She bought Jim and I's house. (I's?? I have actually heard this!!)
CORRECT - She bought Jim's and my house.

I am pretty sure that this problem started with the following scenario: "Mom, can me and Jimmy go to the store?" Mom: "Jimmy and I.. say it!" (oh, was that just MY mom forcing me to say it?) :P

Mom was only correcting incorrect usage, so she never had reason to enforce "between you and me." Sometimes "me" is correct. It is correct a lot more times than people are using it these days.

I have always been told that my grammar will tell people everything they need to know about me. This use just annoys me, but I don't judge people to be dumb. My fear is that when I say "You can call Jim or me if you have any questions," that people think jeeze how dumb is she!

So do I keep using it correctly and hope for the best, or start gritting my teeth and use it incorrectly to fit in with other people's perception of correctness? Or just end my association with Jim and be finished with it! :wink:

If this topic has been covered, my apologies. I found MT a few days ago and I am hooked! Thank you Mike, Mark, and everyone that posts with great advice and info!

Mark's picture

Focus on that which you can change - your own behavior.

Say it correctly.

Let others off the hook.

I assure you - no one likes a grammar policeman. On the other hand, it is completely reasonable for you to draw conclusions about the intelligence and scholarship and background of someone based on their grammar.

This happens to be a fairly normal mistake. Similar ones are using "disrespect" as a verb, not knowing how to use who and whom.

And in today's international culture, let us all do our best, and assume others are doing theirs, and there is no intent for mistakes...but they happen.


peterlevy's picture

[quote="mahorstman"] is completely reasonable for you to draw conclusions about the intelligence and scholarship and background of someone based on their grammar. [/quote]

Whoa. Grammar is arbitrary. There are different rules of acceptability (a more accurate term than 'correctness') in different contexts (geographical, social, professional, etc.)

Language is dynamic, and what is 'acceptable' forever changes as usage changes. I have to take issue with drawing conclusions about intelligence based on grammar. Background yes, scholarship, sometimes (what is not acceptable at the highest levels of scholarship in one place might be [i]de rigueur[/i] in another).

But for intelligence, you have to look at content, not grammar. And sure, you can make an argument that failing to use context-appropriate language is a sign of lack of intelligence, but I think that would be a dangerous assumption except in extreme cases. It would be like concluding that a native Spanish speaker was unintelligent because he momentarily 'lapsed' into his native tongue.

jhack's picture

Peter is right on: English is not mathematics. I highly recommend Fowler's Modern English Usage, and Jim Quinn's American Tongue in Cheek to provide grammar guidance. The PBS series, "The Story of English" is also fun and informative.

You'll find that what you think is a recent decline in usage has a history going back centuries or more.

Much of what we were taught about grammar came from an attempt to impose upon English the rules of Latin. English came to be the world language of business partly because its rules were flexible - folks anywhere could become passably good at it.

Like Mark, I strive to speak and write "proper," to get my subjective and objective pronoun cases correct, etc etc. You will be judged by this in certain circles. But let's not us be the judges...


PS: I would not call it "arbitrary" however...

bffranklin's picture

Much of what we were taught about grammar came from an attempt to impose upon English the rules of Latin.[/quote]

Very, very true. In fact, I can safely say that three years of Latin in high school tremendously improved my grammar.

peterlevy's picture

[quote="jhack"]PS: I would not call it "arbitrary" however...[/quote]

You're right. I meant to say grammar is a construct. I conflated that idea with the concept of the arbitrariness (other than onomatapoeic words) of the symbols of language.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="mahorstman"] On the other hand, it is completely reasonable for you to draw conclusions about the intelligence and scholarship and background of someone based on their grammar.[/quote]

But bear in mind that there are differences between US and International English. What sounds wrong to you may be totally correct somewhere else.

[url=]Grammar Girl[/url], in a [url=]recent cast[/url] noted a difference in US vs British (i.e. International) English around 'went missing' vs just 'missing'. Grammer Girl is usually quite good at flaggingup times when US English differs from International English.


WillDuke's picture

In the end I think we should ask ourselves what the purpose of language is. For me, language is about communication and not about being right. (I actually did my graduate work in English, so we could have a long painful discussion about the evolution of grammar rules, but ick!) Focusing instead on communication, I often find myself changing my linguistic approach depending on the people I am currently with. If I want to fit in with the crowd, I speak as the crowd speaks. If I want to set myself apart, I speak differently than the crowd.

Now, in most traditional business situations I would expect people to use traditional grammar. I would suggest people take their cue from the talking heads on national news.

My personal preference is to make people comfortable in my presence. Beating them up over grammar, manners, dress, etc. does nothing to improve our relationship. Yup, my DiSC profile is high I and S. :)

Mark's picture


The original post seemed to me to be from an American referring to many American's woeful failures to follow grammar rules. Maybe we don't like the rules, and maybe we don't agree with them...but there are rules. They're not software...but they do herniate into our everyday lives with regularity.

I DID genuflect approrpiately for those of other tongues (including non American English) struggling with the arcane nature of American English. I am right now in Europe, having asked a non-native English speaker to address our first international conference, and have spoken at length to him regarding my lack of concern regarding his American diction. His "voice" is actually BETTER than my syntactically correct American English, here.

I also continue to suggest that:

For adult, native American tongued professionals...

It IS reasonable for others to draw conclusions regarding their intellect if their grammar is poor.

I am not suggesting that the use of who or whom is an irreconcilable sin. It is not.

But those who use phrases such as:

"he disrespected me", or

"I don't got to do that",

are at risk of others drawing conclusions about their intellect. While I may be wrong - that this "clue" is not a causal factor (obviously), or even correlated - I have ample evidence that for a manager, aged 25, even if he or she wasn't properly educated, being in a professional workplace would give them plenty of clues regarding proper diction.

Frankly, I am looking constantly for behavioral cues regarding one's intellect, one's abilities, one's proclivities. I am not judging, but rather considering their likelihood to accomplish future objectives. For most managerial objectives, the ability to communicate - and that ability is significantly affected by others' beliefs about their diction - is paramount.

Because this happens, it seems reasonable to me to suggest it as a proxy for something that most managers can't know.

Is it perfect? Nope.

Is it highly serviceable? Yes.

Highly serviceable and not perfect...we could do worse at Manager Tools.


WillDuke's picture

I agree with you 100% Mark. If I showed up at a business seminar I would expect the speaker to speak well. Non-professional speaking habits would negatively impact that speaker's credibility and message.

My point, and perhaps I misunderstood the original poster, was that I would draw a negative conclusion of someone running around as the grammar police.

Chelle's picture

Wow! Thank you all for the great replies! I apologize for not being clear. I am American, and I was writing specifically about native-English speakers in business.

Please do not read my post as an attack. I was definitely not trying to be the language police or to attempt to correct others, I was wondering how [u]I[/u] should handle [u]my own[/u] I/me usage, considering the widespread mistaken usage. I loved Mark's first answer - Say it correctly. I will! I make enough mistakes without purposely doing something incorrectly! :wink:

Again, my fear was that conclusions would be drawn about me as having poor grammar by using I/me correctly, and therefore judged to be less intelligent. People do "consider the likelihood [of others] to accomplish future objectives" by their grammar all the time. I believe that this is the reason that (American) parents were so adamant about correcting us with "Jimmy and I" when we said "can me and Jimmy go to the store." Our parents knew we'd be judged on this, but there were some unintended consequences to the corrections.

Thanks again for your input!

ramiska's picture

Remember, communication is what the listener does but is the responsibility of the speaker.

I think most of us have grammatical pet peeves. Chelle hit on one of my top annoyances. I won't list the others here but there are several.

I do get distracted by bad grammar. Often when listening to conversations I (to myself) correct the bad usage. While I am doing that, I may miss a point. I'm not proud but I'm sure I not the only one. :)

Don't sacrifice your grammar to fit in. Unless asked, don't tell others that they are wrong. Just set a good example.

peterlevy's picture


I also maintain that it's not reasonable to draw conclusions on [b]intelligence[/b] based on grammar.

I agree that everyone ought to try to be aware of the effect that their way of speaking and writing 'describes' them to others.

Finally, in my universe "disrespect" is perfectly acceptable as a verb. I'm not saying that to be a nit, just as an example of something that is completely proper usage in my universe and apparently not so in yours.

WillDuke's picture


I reread your original post and you were clear about your issue. I must have thought I knew where you were going and didn't pay attention to where you said you were going. I apologize.

My now corrected response to you would be - use it correctly. It makes you happy. I suspect that the quality of your everyday communication will carry the day. If someone does think you're using it incorrectly, they might pause and question their own usage.

If someone does bring it up, have a genial discussion about it. Heck, you could even bring up this thread!

AManagerTool's picture

Where I grew up, you would get your nose "busted" for correcting someones grammar. That said, I have worked long and hard on improving mine. Unfortunately, my hard edged "Joisey" accent sometimes shines through. This is particularly noticeable when I am under stress like when I am giving a presentation. The accent and it's sometimes very noticeable grammar issues detract from my message and need to be improved.

I have started taping myself and listening to it per the interview casts. I think that it has helped a bit but I still need more practice. Any additional suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

WillDuke's picture

Tool - steal the feedback trick. Put something (half dozen poker chips?) in your right pocket. Every time you "Go Joisey" move 1 into your left pocket.

Goal 1 - Have stuff left in your right pocket at the end of the day.
Goal 2 - Put less and less stuff in your right pocket as time goes by. :)

ramiska's picture

That's a wicked good idea.

- from outside Boston :)

rthibode's picture

If anyone is interested, Grammar Girl podcast #64 is about "You and I" versus "You and me." She does point out that although the phrase "between you and I" is incorrect, most grammarians are prepared to let people off the hook because it's such a common mistake.

maura's picture

And if there is anyone still wondering if they are using "I" and "me" correctly, here's how I was taught, way back when, in the [i]wicked awesome[/i] Massachussets public school system:

Imagine what the sentence would be like if that other person wasn't involved, and use whichever word would refer to you appropriately.

"Morgan and I like to watch TV" is correct, in the same way that "I like to watch TV" is correct.
"The TV was a gift to me and Morgan" is correct, because "The TV was a gift to me" is correct.

Chelle's picture

Hi again everyone, it's interesting to see the feedback on this topic.

Will: No problem! I like your suggestion to bring up this forum. I found MT last week when I was looking for a way to improve my horrible resume and boy, did I ever find what I was looking for. I've been hooked on this place for a whole week! I have already referred five people to MT.

AMT: Lumbergh is hilarious, Office Space is one of my favorite movies! I agree, correcting someone's grammar is rude, but I always try to improve my own (believe me, I will post some doozies at some point). I hear you about the Joisey accent, I have a southern accent. It's not very strong, but it's there.

maura: That's how I was taught. Take the other person out of the equation and say your sentence. A hint for using who/whom - if you change the sentence around a bit and would say "he," use "who." If you would say "hi[u]m[/u]," use "who[u]m[/u]."

"For who/whom the bell tolls" - "The bell tolls for him." Use whom.
"Who/whom goes there" - "He goes there." Use who.

These days, when using "whom," some people think *oh jeeze.* To some it seems quaint. I think that may be the way I/me will go eventually. I'll have to give up my pet peeve!

AManagerTool's picture

[quote="WillDuke"]Tool - steal the feedback trick. Put something (half dozen poker chips?) in your right pocket. Every time you "Go Joisey" move 1 into your left pocket.

Goal 1 - Have stuff left in your right pocket at the end of the day.
Goal 2 - Put less and less stuff in your right pocket as time goes by. :)[/quote]

Thanks Will, as usual, great suggestion.

jhack's picture

New Jersey is ranked as a top state in education by almost every measure; for example, the latest government census indicates we are third in the nation for highest percentage of population with an undergraduate degree (after Massachusetts and Connecticut).

We're used to the jokes. But let's not forget the facts.


AManagerTool's picture

Don't get me wrong jhack, JERSEY ROCKS. My problem is that Tony Soprano talks like me...LOL.

juliahhavener's picture

I struggle almost daily with this. I'm very picky about grammar and punctuation usage - I recognize where it comes from. I grew up listening to a court reporter dictate transcripts, so I literally hear "however comma" when I write "however,". In my teenage years, I frequently proofread my mother's (said court reporter) transcripts. As an adult, I've taken a number of courses toward a judicial reporting degree before determining that management is where my future truly lies.

The people who work for me are from all walks of life, different experience and education levels. In general, I manage to ignore the little things. I have also learned that the excessive use of double negatives [i]really[/i] grates on my nerves. I bite my tongue on correcting the person who does it incessantly, though occassionally my aggravation factor will win at, at which point he hears one possible option or another with which he can use to replace 'not nothing'.

Still, I try...very hard...not to let the grammar freak in me win out.

For what it's worth, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves was a great find for me. It even gave me stickers to fix the poor punctuation in this world when it particularly offends me. (Unfortunately, not nearly large enough for the "Healing all people with faith, compassion, and care" billboard that made me twitch on my daily commute until it came down last week.)