What do Shakespeare and Obama have in common?

June 29, 2012 in English, grammar

There were very few grammar rules for English until English developed into a language which was deemed acceptable for literature or other educated works (“How dare thee not write thy treatise in Latin?!”). Shakespeare and the King James Bible settled the issue pretty much. But as soon as English became “acceptable,” the grammar police got interested in it. They started sorting everything out into parts of speech and figuring out what sounded “educated” and what didn’t–really what was London (or Oxford or Cambridge) English and what wasn’t. So I’m aware of some of the kinds of talk that we had to give up because someone ruled it was incorrect–like the use of ain’t. But I did not know this one (quoting from Grammarphobia)–

For centuries, it was perfectly acceptable to use either “I” or “me” as the object of a verb or preposition, especially after “and.” Literature is full of examples. Here’s Shakespeare, in “The Merchant of Venice”: “All debts are cleared between you and I.” And here’s Lord Byron, complaining to his half-sister about the English town of Southwell, “which, between you and I, I wish was swallowed up by an earthquake, provided my eloquent mother was not in it.”

Turns out that President Obama has been criticised for his grammar, mainly over this issue. He has used when he should have used me. (“a very personal decision for Michelle and I”). But according to this post on Grammarphobia (taken from the New York Times) about the president’s problem, he is following a long line of literary use. He sounds like Shakespeare. You can read the whole article on Grammarphobia.