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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 300

  Here are some grotesque confusions, indeed. Perhaps the best way to get at the principles underlying them is to examine first, not the cases of their occurrence, but the cases of their non-occurrence. Let us begin with the transfer of the objective form to the nominative in the subject relation. “Me and her was both late” is obviously sound American; one hears it, or something like it, on the streets every day. But one never hears “me was late” or “her was late” or “us was late” or “him was late” or “them was late.” Again, one hears “us girls was there” but never “us was there.” Yet again, one hears “her and John was married,” but never “her was married.” The distinction here set up should be immediately plain. It exactly parallels that between her and hern, our and ourn, their and theirn: the tendency, as Sweet says, is “to merge the distinction of nominative and objective in that of conjoint and absolute.” 85 The nominative, in the subject relation, takes the usual nominative form only when it is in immediate contact with its verb. If it be separated from its verb by a conjunction or any other part of speech, even including another pronoun, it takes the objective form. Thus “me went home” would strike even the most ignorant shopgirl as “bad grammar,” but she would use “me and my friend went,” or “me and him,” or “he and her,” or “me and them” without the slightest hesitation. What is more, if the separation be effected by a conjunction and another pronoun, the other pronoun also changes to the objective form, even though its contact with the verb may be immediate. Thus one hears “me and her was there,” not “me and she”; “her and him kissed,” not “her and he.” Still more, this second pronoun commonly undergoes the same inflection even when the first member of the group is not another pronoun, but a noun. Thus one hears “John and her was married,” not “John and she.” To this rule there is but one exception, and that is in the case of the first person pronoun, especially in the singular. “Him and me are friends” is heard often, but “him and I are friends” is also heard. I seems to suggest the subject very powerfully; it is actually the subject of perhaps a majority of the sentences uttered by an ignorant man. At all events, it resists the rule, at least partially, and may even do so when actually separated from the verb by another pronoun,