The Language Perfectionist: All About You

In a recent article reporting on “e-signatures” for contracts and other documents, this quotation appeared: “How do you know it was me who signed it?”

The proper uses of I and me are among the first grammatical rules that schoolchildren are taught. Yet even as adults, writers and speakers sometimes get it wrong.

The distinction is not that difficult to keep straight. Grammarians call I the nominative case and me the objective case. So use I when you’re the actor: “I’m going to the office.” And me when you’re the object of the action: “Please give the package to me.”

True, a few situations arise where following the rules might create a stilted or pretentious result. “It’s me” sounds more natural on the phone, for example, even if it’s technically incorrect. (Officially, “It’s I” abbreviates the phrase, “It is I who is speaking.”)

Similarly, “How do you know it was I who signed it?” is a trifle awkward. But problems like this can usually be solved via adroit rephrasing. One possible option: “How do you know I was the person who signed it?”

This column brings to mind two movies that were popular when I was growing up. The title of The Egg and I was admirably correct. But Me and the Colonel was ungrammatical. Of course, the filmmakers knew what they were doing.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]