I vs. Me: How to Choose the Right Word

One is a subject, and the other is an object

Woman looking in mirror
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Both "I" and "me" are first-person singular pronouns, but they are used in different ways. "I" is a subject pronoun, while "me" is an object pronoun.

How to Use "I"

"I" is a first-person subject pronoun, which means it is used as the subject of a sentence (the person who is performing an action or being something):

  • I am tired of eating frozen waffles.
  • I went to the library to check out some books.

In each of these examples, "I" is the subject of the sentence, the person who is "being" tired and "going" to the library.

How to Use "Me"

"Me" is a first-person subject pronoun, which means it is the direct or indirect object of an action or of a preposition:

  • Lisa tutored me.
  • The deliveryman handed a package to me.

In the first example, the pronoun "me" is the direct object of the verb "tutored"; "me" is not the one tutoring but rather the one being tutored. In the second example, "me" is the object of the preposition "to." The sentence can be rewritten without the preposition by making "me" the direct object of the verb "handed":

  • The deliveryman handed me a package.

Examples

The best way to know when to use "I" and "me" is to identify whether the word is being used as a subject or an object. If it's the subject of a sentence, the one performing an action or being something, you should use the word "I":

  • After I opened the presents, I was very happy.
  • I asked Jim to help with the project.
  • Samantha and I are taking the tour tomorrow.

When you're referring to the object of an action, whether direct or indirect, use the pronoun "me":

  • My mother told me to focus on my studies.
  • The ball came flying through the air and hit me on the head.
  • The weather did not look very pleasant to me.

How to Remember the Difference

It is usually easy to tell when you should use "I" or "me." Confusion can occur, however, when one of these pronouns is grouped with another noun. Take the following sentence, for example:

  • The officer was looking at Jim and I.

To determine if the usage of "I" is correct, all you have to do is take out "Jim" to isolate the first-person pronoun:

  • The officer was looking at I.

This is not correct because "I" is not an object pronoun. Because the person is the object of the officer's gaze, we must use the object pronoun "me."

The same principle applies to other examples where first-person pronouns are paired or grouped with other nouns:

  • Bill and me are excited to go to the concert.

Once we remove "Bill" from this sentence, we see that the use of "me" is incorrect.

It's important to remember that when a pronoun is the object of a preposition, you must use an object pronoun. Many people make the mistake of writing "between you and I" when they should write "between you and me." Grammarist Mignon Fogarty says the former is a common example of hypercorrection, the result of people trying too hard to write correctly and using grammatical rules in places where they don't apply.

"I" and "Me" After Forms of the Verb "Be"

In Early Modern English—the language spoken by Shakespeare and others—"I" and "me" were sometimes used interchangeably after the verb "be." One example, as scholars John Algeo and Thomas Pyles point out, occurs in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," where the character Sir Andrew Aguecheek says, "That's mee I warrant you...I knew 'twas I."

"That's me" uses the object pronoun "me," while "'twas I" uses the subject pronoun "I." Both statements, however, are versions of the same syntactical construction: That/it is/was me/I. Strict grammarians insist that the verb "to be" must be followed by a subject pronoun; however, the object pronoun "me" is frequently used in standard English. While "It is I" is usually technically correct, you are more likely to hear the expression "It's me." The latter is grammatically correct, however, when the pronoun is followed by a relative clause that identifies the pronoun as the object of an action. For example:

  • It's me who was really hurt by your reckless behavior.

"Me" is correct in this instance because it is the object of the verb "hurt."

Sources

  • Algeo, John, and Thomas Pyles. The Origins and Development of the English Language. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010, p. 169.
  • Fogarty, Mignon. Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Henry Holt and Co., 2008, p. 143.