between you and I

Several weeks ago at the gym I heard a song which begins:

There’s a thousand miles between you and I. 

Two years ago (to the day, coincidentally), I posted about the usage of the equivalent of you and I/me as subject, direct object and object of a preposition, so I wasn’t going to post just about that. (I seem to remember that the next song correctly had you and me after a verb or preposition.)

Yesterday I posted about the song Yesterday, and Batchman, who has been my number 1 commenter recently, said, among other things:

In general, using pop songs to illustrate grammar treads on risky ground. Think about all the songs with some variant of “for you and I” in them.

Google Ngram Viewer uncooperatively won’t let me search for ‘*_ADP you and me’ and ‘*_ADP you and I’ (ADP for adposition, the umbrella term for prepositions and postpositions, to allow for languages which have postpositions), but searching for ‘* you and me’ returns:

between for like just (not relevant) to about of with both (not relevant)

Searching for ‘* you and I’ returns nothing relevant, with the results starting with that you and I and and you and I.

Searching for ‘between you and me,between you and I’ shows that the correct between you and me is way ahead in usage, but that the incorrect between you and I is used and its usage has been steady for 200 years. There is no relevant difference between British and American usage. 

Searching for ‘[word from that list] you and I,[the same word from that list] you and me’, shows a mixed bag of actual usage. 

between you and me, for you and me, like you and me and about you and me are used more often (in most cases, much more often) than between you and I, for you and I, like you and I and about you and I

to you and me and to you and I, of you and me and of you and I and in you and me and in you and I are used about equally

with you and I and from you and I are used (only just) more often than with you and me and from you and me

Like it or not (and I don’t and I hesitate to say any of this, but it’s where the evidence leads me),‘PREP you and I’ is common, is presumably not limited to pop songs and is presumably not going to go away any time soon. ‘Incorrect’ grammar usage is often very interesting, because it shows how people actually speak and write (and sing). 

This is all assuming that I can trust Google Ngrams on this. If I was a professional linguist, I’d have access to better research tools. I can think of sentences like “Do they love each other like you and I do?” but they must be rare and marginal.

In case you can’t see why between you and I is incorrect, omit you and. Between me is not a good example, but the rest are for me, like me, about me etc (not for I, like I, about I etc).

See also this post, for a pop song usage which is totally incorrect.

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4 thoughts on “between you and I

  1. What’s worse nowadays is that the incorrect pronominal case has expanded past “preposition pronoun and I” and has been showing up in the pronoun immediately following the preposition, e.g. “between he and some other person”. It’s almost as if a general rule is developing that whenever there is a compound object (by which I mean two objects connected by a conjunction), the nominative form of the pronoun gets used.

    Something similar must have happened in French a long time ago, because there you have the set of pronouns “moi”, “toi”, etc. in situations where the plain objective pronouns “me”, te”, etc. wouldn’t sound right.
    Seems like the French came up with a practical and effective solution to this non-problem.

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  2. About the “the way I are” post: Another instance of maladjusted pronouns in song lyrics for poetical reasons: the English version of “The Girl from Ipanema” as sung by Astrud Gilberto: “She looks straight ahead, not at he.” Since she is female, she sings the song from a third-person point of view instead of a first-person one, hence the switch from “me” to “he”. Of course, it must be “him”, but it’s not “him”.

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  3. I can’t think that I’ve ever heard that song in full. I certainly didn’t know the words with ‘he’. Male singers can easily sing ‘I/me’ (eg Frank Sinatra). Female singers are either stuck with ‘he/him’ (as Astrud did) or gender-flipping the whole thing to ‘the boy from Ipanema’ not looking at ‘me’ (eg Diana Krall).
    The English words were written by a native English speaker (Norman Gimbal), who presumably knew that there was a problem there.
    WS Gilbert played it for laughs, writing:
    He thought so little they rewarded he
    By making him the ruler of the Queen’s navee.

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    • PS Wikipedia mentions that some female singers sing “But each time when she goes for a swim, she looks straight ahead not at him.” It also calls “not at he” “an awkward translation”, but it’s a paraphrase, not a translation. The Portuguese original doesn’t mention (not) looking at anyone (at least if I can trust Google Translate).

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