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Dr Lucy Worsley’s grammar

September 14, 2017

I see this morning that there’s a Twitter squall going on with regard to Lucy Worsley’s grammar. Today’s the day that the new Jane Austen tenners come into circulation, and Dr Worsley tweeted that “she and me” would be on television talking about it (Worsley doing most of the talking, one assumes). Giles Coren tweeted a rebuke; it should of course be “she and I”. At which point Times journalist Oliver Kamm weighed in to say that Worsley’s grammar was fine because “Pronoun is free to take either case in a co-ordinate phrase”. And then Giles tweeted to Oliver Kamm that he couldn’t be more wrong.

I feel impelled at this point  to stick my oar in. Giles is obviously right: it has to be “she and I”. Here are my reasons. First, the pronoun for Dr Worsley ought to be in the nominative because she is the subject, the person going on television. No one, except maybe a three-year-old child, would say “Me is going on television today”. It just sounds silly, and no less silly when “she and” is added. Second, Worsley has mixed up her pronouns anyway, with one subject pronoun and one object pronoun; one ought at least to be consistent. Third, Kamm’s formulation that pronouns are “free” to take either case is just a way of saying that in practice people do indeed mix them up. Now that is clearly true, and in informal speech it’s allowable, but in other contexts it doesn’t sound right; and I submit that a famous historian talking about a major figure of English literature with reference to a public television broadcast regarding a historic change to the currency is one of those contexts.

I favour the very simple rule that if it would sound right to say ‘I’, then one should say “X and I”; and if it would sound right to say “me” then one should say “X and me”. You need a good reason for breaking this rule and I don’t think Lucy Worsley had one.

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  1. Simon Carter permalink

    There is a book called Jane and Me about Jane Austen; is it possible Dr. Worsley was making a joke about the title?

  2. That is indeed possible.

  3. Agreed, Brandon.

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