It’s the typical trope regarding a “grammar nazi.” Whenever anyone uses “John and me” in a sentence*, they jump in with a nasal and annoying “Don’t you mean John and I?”
Do you know what? Sometimes, the snobs are wrong. This is a common hypercorrection. “John and me” is not an obsolete phrase that should always, without fail, be replaced by “John and I.” Both are relevant and correct in their own context. Learn the difference, and maybe one day you could bite back at someone who incorrectly corrects your grammar.
The technical explanation
The confusion here lies in the words “I” and “me,” which are different forms of the first person pronoun (a word which replaces a proper noun referring to the writer or speaker themselves). “I” is the subject form of this pronoun. In English, subjects tend to come at the beginning of a phrase as a very loose rule, and they are the entity which “acts” the verb. Thus, we say “I did this,” “I saw that,” “I ate a purple pineapple,” and other such constructions.
“Me” is the object form of the first person pronoun. An object is acted upon by the main verb in the clause (directly or indirectly, but that’s a linguistics lesson for another day), or is linked to the subject and main verb with a preposition. There can be more than one object in a phrase, playing different roles. Thus, we say things like “The dog ate me,” “He looked at me” or “Sally took a plane to Tokyo and skyped me when she got there.” That latter sentence has two verbs and quite a few objects, but “me” is definitely in an object position as opposed to a subject position.
So, the question of whether to use “John and me” (see also “me and John") or “John and I” is a question of which part of a sentence they occur in. Subject or object?
The grammar hack
Mapping out a sentence tree to decide what’s a subject and what’s an object is not a practical way to determine which form of the pronoun to use mid-conversation. There’s an easier method.
To figure it out on the fly, just consider the sentence without “John.” Even in cases where verb conjugations make the sentence a little odd, you will still be able to get a sense of which pronoun form makes sense.
Here are some examples:
“John and I” or “John and me”?
Me went to the beach. ❌
I went to the beach. ✅
John and I went to the beach. ✅
John and me went to the beach. ❌
Troy came to the beach with I. ❌
Troy came to the beach with me. ✅
Troy came to the beach with John and me. ✅
Troy came to the beach with John and I. ❌
Me am thinking about moving to Canada. ❌
I am thinking about moving to Canada. ✅
John and I are thinking about moving to Canada. ✅
John and me are thinking about moving to Canada. ❌
If you ask I, dogs should wear clothes. ❌
If you ask me, dogs should wear clothes. ✅
If you ask John and me, dogs should wear clothes. ✅
If you ask John and I, dogs should wear clothes. ❌
So really, the question of whether you should use “John and me” or “John and I” is as simple as whether you would use “me” or “I.”
Don’t be a d*ck
The fact that people commonly get these two pronouns mixed up when used in conjunction with another noun or pronoun is not really the issue. Sure, if you’re writing or speaking professionally, it’s a good idea to get it right. However, if you aren’t and you mix them up, people will almost definitely know what you are talking about.
The issue is with the aforementioned hypercorrection. If you’re going to correct someone on their grammar (and in most cases, unless you have that kind of relationship this is ill-advised), it should be a legitimate correction. “Don’t you mean John and I?” is not only grating, but it’s often wrong.
This is a very common error, and the confusion is compounded by the fact that it’s often mistakenly corrected even when it’s said or written correctly! Now you know both the linguistics behind it and the easiest way to determine whether “me” or “I” is right in any particular case.
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*The name “John” here is a stand-in for any other name or noun used.