An accusative person in a nominative world

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From the August 30 New Yorker:

Some earlier LL posts that describe the facts and offer advice: "Write like me", 7/24/2009; "When peeves collide", 8/15/2009. And from LL classic: "Just between Dr. Language and I", 8/7/2005.

Note also the snowclone "a P person in a Q world", for which the web provides many values of P and Q: "positive" vs. "negative", "real" vs. "virtual", "right-brained" vs. "left-brained", "listening" vs. "noisy", "civilized" vs. "barbaric", "black" vs. "white", "blind" vs. "sighted", "simple" vs. "complex", "healthy" vs. "sick", "gay" vs. "straight", "relaxed" vs. "tense", "smart" vs. "dumb", "small" vs. "big", "extraordinary" vs. "ordinary", "reasonable" vs. "unreasonable", and so on.


  1. Tom Saylor said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    Sorry to start off the comments with a tangential issue, but I note that "embiggening" the embedded image actually makes it smaller. Has "embiggen" now departed semantically from "enlarge," so that it's used of any mouse-clicking transformation of a digital image, regardless of whether the resulting image is bigger or smaller than the original?

    [(myl) The original image in this case is 562×486. Since the relevant space in the LL layout is a bit less than 500 pixels wide, I generally set with width of the displayed image to 475. If you click on it, the WordPress macro involved will give you the original size, unless it can't manage that on the screen you're using. So either you're using a really tiny screen, or your OS/browser combination is causing the macro to malfunction.

    If you really want the larger version — not necessary in this case, I think — you can try opening the link in another tab or another window (via the menu for right-click or control-click or whatever).]

  2. chris said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

    @Tom: Not on my combination of system, browser, and monitor, it doesn't. Apparently the result of "embiggening" depends on some combination of those factors.

  3. D said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Might be something about your browser/resolution. For me, it embiggens the image in a cromulent manner.

  4. John Lawler said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    You have to use the same browser as Jebediah Springfield.

  5. Anonsters said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    Someone started off the comments on a Peeving post by peeving. Oh, Language Log.

  6. BrianneLise said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

    When my sister was learning to speak she used to say, "I too, I too," which I remember being enthralled with for her use of the nominative.

  7. MJ said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

    I have an eight-year-old who says "am'nt I." Seriously.

  8. Mr Fnortner said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    @MJ, your son is a whisker away from "ain't I", which is etymologically sound but socially taboo. In a world that disregards "between you and I", certainly "ain't I" should be acceptable too.

  9. Nathan Myers said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    I would have said "a whisper away", but I echo the sentiment wholethroatedly.

  10. Anna Phor said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

    MJ, "amn't" is perfectly sound Scots English. I use it myself when I'm speaking that dialect.

  11. David Eddyshaw said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    "Amn't I" is pretty usual in Scotland.

  12. Lazar said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

    I've often bemoaned the lack of "amn't" in standard English.

  13. lynneguist said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

    Ah, this is going to go straight into what I'm writing about contrastive constructions at the moment…thanks!!

  14. MJ said,

    August 23, 2010 @ 9:48 pm

    My son has a rather logical mind, so I guess that would explain him using "amn't" even though no one he knows has ever or would ever say that. I've wanted to tell him "aren't," but the explanation wouldn't make sense to him. Turning him into a descriptivist is not going to be easy.

  15. Kä'eng said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 1:26 am

    MJ, I aren't convinced that your preferred first-person negative copula is superior to his.

  16. Elizabeth OShea said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 5:10 am

    'Amn't' is also perfectly good Hiberno-English.

  17. Elizabeth OShea said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 5:11 am

    For example:

    Amn't I after telling you that's right?

  18. Richard said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    My (non-Scottish Texan) sister insisted on saying 'amn't' until at least the age of 8. I always wished that I had thought of it first.

  19. Rick said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

    Mr Fnortner said: … your son is a whisker away …
    Nathan Myers said: I would have said "a whisper away" …

    Isn't one or the other of these an eggcorn? (Google reports three times as many hits for "whisker" than for "whisper.")

    And, completely off topic but a Language Log sort of thing:
    "U.S. typo vigilantes correct errant signage""

  20. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    @Rick We've had _several_ posts on these guys IIRC. Including one just earlier this month.

  21. Will said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

    @Rick, LL just reported an update on those guys last week:

  22. Qov said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

    It changes, this language I thought I knew.

    I was taught to answer the question "How are you?" with an adverb. So many people were taking "Well" to be a negative response, as in "Well … could be better," that I knuckled under and now answer "Good."

    I remember watching a friend twitch involuntarily as she witnessed a parent hypercorrect a child's "Can Emily play with Stacy and me?"

    How would the new reality be represented in a textbook? "English pronouns have an object and subject case, except that the object case whom is only used in a jocular sense or immediately following a sentence-initial preposition, and I is substituted for me in a compound object coordinated with "and" if the object includes another person.

    Is that right?

    It's "He took a picture of Julie and I" but we still get to say "He took a picture of me and my pony."

  23. Karen said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

    I think the determiner isn't whether the other is a person or not, it's which is first in the conjoined phrase. "Me and Julie" hasn't gone anywhere.

  24. tablogloid said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

    As the Scottish hip hop artist screamed, " Amped I am. Amn't I ?"

  25. Rodger C said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    Hesitation over "I/me" is often resolved, at least in America, by substituting "myself," which is a major peeve in some quarters (perhaps especially because it's widely perceived as a Hibernicism).

  26. bread & roses said,

    August 24, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

    I was taught to take the other person out of the sentence and use whichever pronoun sounds right by itself:
    "He took a picture of Julie and I"

    Becomes "He took a picture of I"- obviously wrong

    "He took a picture of me and my pony."

    Becomes "He took a picture of me" =fine.

    And to put yourself last- "he took a picture of my pony and me".

    But after reading Language Log for a few months I have no notion what relationship this "rule" has to usage, standard usage, or other people's perceptions of my correct usage. I do know it makes me feel correct, which is such a powerful urge. I think the psychology of "grammar" rules (not grammer but what usage mavens and such call grammer) is very oddly powerful. Somebody should figure out why.

  27. lucia said,

    August 25, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    >>Isn't one or the other of these an eggcorn? (Google reports three times as many hits for "whisker" than for "whisper.")

    If so, which is original?

    People also say "hair's breadth away". Whiskers are usually thicker than hairs from people's heads, which are thicker than woman's arm hair.

  28. Rick said,

    August 25, 2010 @ 10:49 am


    I would assume that "whisker away" is the original. As you noted, there is the related "a hair's breadth away"; there is also "a hair away". So "a whisker away" fits into that pattern, as "the distance of the width of a hair (of some sort)", i.e., a very small distance. "A whisper away" – the distance away at one can hear a whisper – has the same general meaning, and "whisker" sounds like "whisper", so I would guess that "whisper" is the eggcorn.

  29. Qov said,

    August 25, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    Karen, I'm pretty sure that people who follow the new 'rule' would reject "He took a picture of me and Julie" in favour of "He took a picture of Julie and I." I think the hypercorrection comes from people who said "Me and Julie are going shopping" and were corrected, and then generalized that to all cases.

  30. Ray Dillinger said,

    August 25, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

    This is actually a fairly interesting development. Old English had distinguished dative and accusative cases in the first person, but they merged around 1100-1200 and we have the word 'me' (IIRC called the "objective" case) now for both roles.

    If this were simply a case of English losing its first-person objective, "me" would be disappearing. But that's not the case (so to speak). What is happening is more interesting than that. There is still a case distinction in the first person, and "I" is still being used for all instances of the nominative case. What is interesting is that "I" seems to be crowding into the accusative role and "me", formerly objective (accusative AND dative), is increasingly "heard to be" correct only in the dative. The so-called "objective" case is breaking down.

    The linguistically peculiar thing is that this merges the first person nominative and accusative in the word "I" while distinguishing the "less important" dative case, which seems to violate the basic case hierarchy for a language with nominative/accusative alignment, but is consistent with a language with an ergative/absolutive alignment (iirc).

    Are we seeing something so fundamental as a basic shift in linguistic typology here?

  31. nakrian said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 2:33 am

    Things have been going downhill since the 12th century in my opinion. Bring back the accusative/dative distinction I say!

    My suggestion is that we reserve the (correct!) use of him/her/them for the dative (to/with/for/…etc) and introduce hin/hern/they for the accusative (OE did not distinguish between acc/dat for the 3rd pers pl so "they" can do for both).

    So we would say "Hang hin!", "Hang hern!", "Hang they!". Of course we should also bring back ye for the 2nd pers plural (instead of "y'all" or "youse") and nominative singular.

    I guess we will just have to reluctantly resign ourselves to a common acc/dat "me" since that was just about the way it was in OE. Obviously things were going to hell in a handbasket linguistically even then.

  32. nakrian said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:41 am

    Also whom/whon (acc/dat). "Hang whon?"

  33. nakrian said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 3:44 am

    That should be whom=dative, whon=accusative of course. My posts seem to be submitted before I have clicked on "submit comment", before I have had a chance to proof read :(

  34. John Cowan said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 11:39 am

    I consider this hypercorrection theory of between you and I to be nonsense. If it were true, people who say Me and Julie wouldn't say it, but they do. What we have instead is a burgeoning rule whereby conjoined subject pronouns take the objective case ("Me and them went home"), and conjoined object pronouns take the nominative case. Against this theory is that people do not say "I want to see he and she" or "I went shopping with he and they". Yet.

  35. D. Sky Onosson said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    John Cowan said "What we have instead is a burgeoning rule whereby conjoined subject pronouns take the objective case ("Me and them went home"), and conjoined object pronouns take the nominative case. "

    Does this smell a little like ergativity to anyone?? (I'm throwing that out there for someone with some expertise, as I have very little knowledge of this area of syntax myself)

  36. Faldone said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

    If I've got this straight ergativity is more a matter of the case of the subject of a sentence and it depends on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive. Thus one would say, "Me fell down the stairs" but "I pushed hin down the stairs."

  37. D. Sky Onosson said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

    How does "Me and him fell down the stairs" work for you, vs. "He and I fell down the stairs" (ignoring the 1st-3rd person order reversal)?

  38. John F said,

    August 31, 2010 @ 8:17 am

    @John Cowan I'm pretty sure I've actually witnessed people who were corrected from an incorrect usage like "Julie and me went shopping" and then use an incorrect from like "he took a picture of Julie and I" within minutes because they over-generalised and it was impossible to explain it to them. They would generally revert back to using "and me" all the time except when making an effort to be correct (which is sad when they make an effort and still get it wrong).

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