Imagine the outrage of grammar school teachers when Paul Simon released Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard in 1972. I often wonder if the popular song inspired misuse of the first person pronoun by many youngsters of the time or if it was a reflection of popular vernacular. It’s the old art imitates life/life imitates art riddle. Rather than tackle the riddle, let’s consider the grammar.
Having attended school in that time period, I can attest to the fact that teachers often quipped “[insert name here] and I, not me!” For those of us who had yet to reach the double digit ages, it sounded and felt odd to say “Sally and I” or “She and I,” but we did it to satisfy our teachers and avoid verbal reprimand.
In recent years, I’ve come to the conclusion that piercing teacher voices echo in the minds of many, who dreaded verbal reprimand, and that is the reason many adults almost exclusively use the pronoun “I” as part of a compound regardless where in the sentence it falls. Perhaps too many heard our teachers’ correction but did not hear or remember the reasoning, or perhaps teachers in their fervor to correct us, failed to offer an explanation of this grammar rule: The first person pronoun “I” should be used as the subject of a sentence. “Me” is the object form of the first person pronoun.
We usually get it right when referring to a singular subject or object, but the compounds seem to confuse a lot of people. I hear it when professionals speak, and even worse, I see it in their writing. Get this grammar rule right to avoid appearing less than professional. The sound of an adult saying something like “This report was typed for Sally and I” curdles my blood like fingernails on a chalkboard.
To break the habit of always saying “[insert name here] and I,” test the sentence in your head by removing the second noun (usually a name) that makes the subject or object compound. For instance, it would be correct for me to say, “Sally and I visited Mom.” Remove Sally and the sentence “I visited Mom” is fine. What if Mom visited us? “Mom visited Sally and I” is nails on the chalkboard. Again, remove Sally to check the sentence. “Mom visited I.” Ouch! “Mom visited me” is correct.
You can find a simple explanation of this rule and more examples at my favorite grammar site, Grammar Book. I encourage you to sign up for their free newsletter and take their quizzes from time to time, just to keep yourself sharp.
As for Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Paul Simon employed poetic license. Besides, the title isn’t a full sentence and it’s not quite clear whether “Me and Julio” is the subject or object.
The Paul Simon example brings to mind one final point: Always reference yourself second in the compound subject or object (Julio and I). It’s not only grammatically preferable, it’s also polite, but it never would have worked in that song. Thank God for poetic license.