The Thumb Rule

Pronouns (I, me, he, him) confuse many people. Read the following sentence. Is it right or wrong?

My father taught my brothers and me many important lessons about life.

If you said that the sentence is right, you’re probably a college graduate – maybe even an English major. Yes, the sentence is correct, even though many people would insist (mistakenly) that it should be “my brothers and I.” (To many people, “I” sounds more elegant than “me,” and they overuse it.)

A grammarian would say that taught is a transitive verb, taking the objective case. So you need “me,” not “I,” in this sentence.

But let’s be Writing Revolutionaries and skip the jargon. There’s an easy way to get sentences like this one right every time. Just use your thumb to make the sentence shorter.

Here’s how: Go back to the original sentence and cover up “my brothers and” with your thumb. This is what you end up with:

My father taught me many important lessons about life.

You can hear that “me” is right. So here’s the corrected sentence:

My father taught my brothers and me many important lessons about life.  CORRECT

Just for fun, let’s do the same thing with “I.” Cover up “my brothers and.” This is what you get:

My father taught I many important lessons about life.  WRONG

Doesn’t sound right, does it? You need “me” in this sentence, not “I.”

Let’s try one more:

In July my best friend and I will be going to Mexico for two weeks.

Cover “my best friend and.” Here’s what’s left:

I will be going to Mexico for two weeks.

Sounds right! So your sentence is correct:

In July my best friend and I will be going to Mexico for two weeks.  CORRECT

Take your thumb with you wherever you go. It’s a great language tool!

Just kidding. But this “Thumb Rule” trick works every time. You can download a free handout that explains pronoun rules at this link.

a thumb

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2 thoughts on “The Thumb Rule

  1. AvatarKelly Pomeroy

    I’m not sure the ‘offenders’ think ‘my brothers and me” sounds more elegant. I think they’re reacting to being corrected for using that same phrase in a different context. They may have been corrected for saying “My brothers and me like to go to the movies.” The same phrase you said was wrong is correct in this context.

    Your suggested test works equally well here. You wouldn’t say “me like to go to the movies”.

  2. Avatarballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Kelly! Absolutely right (of course!). Usually I include a “John and I” sentence to show students that “I” is sometimes correct. Next time I’ll be sure to make that point.

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