Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

Please Don’t Take a Picture of We.

with 3 comments

Even if you’re using this blog to learn English as a foreign language, you probably see the ridiculous grammar of this post’s title. You know that it should be “take a picture of us.”

No big shocker. But so often people make that same mistake when they use the “soandso and …” construction. Apparently, doing things with a friend screws with our grammar.

For instance, “Take a picture of Mike and I” is technically incorrect.

The quick explanation goes thusly:
If you leave Mike out of the sentence, you’re left with “Take a picture of I.” And you wouldn’t say that unless it was on purpose, knowing it sounded silly. So you’re still taking a picture of me (not I), but you’re just adding your buddy into the frame.

So there’s your quick test to see whether something you’re writing is grammatically correct: leave your friends behind and see if the singular pronoun of your choice makes any sense.

The slightly more in-depth explanation goes thusly:
You know how we change our verbs based on who’s doing the thing and what time it happened? (She goes to the festival; She and Jan go to the festival, they went …) Well, we do that a tiny bit with our nouns, except the word changes to indicate who’s doing what and to whom.

When a noun is the subject of the sentence, it’s in what’s called the nominative case – the thing is being named, doing the action. The words I and we are nominative. We do something – us don’t. But when something’s being acted upon, it isn’t the subject, but rather an object and is then in the objective case: “Whatshisface took a picture of us” – Whatshisface is the subject doing the picture-taking, and the word us is the object being acted upon.

And yes, Whatshisface even took a picture of Mike and me.

I know, I know! So many of you are screaming that it just sounds wrong and uneducated. Uttered from the mouth of some unwashed cave-dweller!

Guess what – it’s technically correct.

Many well meaning parents have beaten the rule into us that we should say “Mike and I” not “Mike and me.” But your mom’s lesson is correct only part of the time – only when Mike and I are ones doing something (Mike and I took a picture of them). It’s incorrect when we’re the ones not doing so you’re left with “They took a picture of Mike and me.”

What I find the most amusing is that this error usually occurs by people consciously trying to be grammatically correct. Ironic, isn’t it? Even I have to admit that it sounds a little off to my ears because the “Mike and I” construction has been branded on my brain. Oddly enough, the often-dreaded “me and Mike” sounds much more natural, and I’d advocate for that … as long as you can silence your mother’s voice inside your head telling you to always put others first.

Written by Nathanael Green

January 12, 2009 at 5:22 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I’m going to refrain from making any “Your Mom” jokes.

    I myself have always been a selfish pig, so I never had any trouble saying “Mom was taking a picture of ME and Mike.”

    Brian O'Rourke

    January 13, 2009 at 3:01 pm

  2. […] A quick example: prescriptive grammar tells us that we’re supposed to say “It is I” because the verb “is” makes both things equal in the sentence, thus putting “I” in the nominative case. (Click here for more on cases.) […]

  3. […] I’ll refer you to my earlier post on cases to clarify subjects and […]

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