Posted by Catie Holdridge
The question of whether to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ in sentences such as ‘Doris and I went to the opera’ is one we’ve covered on the site before. But it turns out the I-or-me question doesn’t end there, as another recent posting on our writing advice forum proves. When making comparisons, is it correct grammar to write ‘than I’ or ‘than me’?
As our reader points out, strict adherence to the rules of grammar would seem to call for the subject pronoun (eg I, he, she). But is it acceptable in modern, casual contexts to use the object pronoun (eg me, him, her)?
Let’s recap. The subject in a sentence is either the person or thing performing the action (the verb) of the sentence, or it is the topic (or theme) of the sentence. For example:
She went to the opera.
The opera was a little dull.
The object is the person or thing affected by the verb in the sentence, or that follows a preposition (a word that shows how different parts of the sentence are related in space and time eg as, by, before, to, among etc). For example:
I actually enjoyed the opera.
They presented an award to him.
‘Than’ as conjunction
Following ‘than’ with the subject pronoun in sentences such as ‘He is taller than I’ is strictly accurate because the comparison is between two subjects. Both ‘he’ and ‘I’ can be viewed as the subject: the verb of the sentence (‘is’, from ‘to be’) obviously applies to ‘he’, but is also implied for ‘I’ (‘He is taller than I am’). In this use, the word ‘than’ is working as a conjunction – a word that joins two words, sentences or clauses together. More specifically, it is a subordinating conjunction: it introduces a dependent clause (‘I am’).
‘Than’ as preposition
However, there are those who argue that ‘than’ functions here as a preposition. Accordingly, just as other prepositions, such as ‘by’, ‘before’, ‘to’, are followed by pronouns in the object case (‘by me’, ‘before her’, ‘to him’), so too should ‘than’ be. It’s also worth noting that using the object (‘than me’) will sound more natural to most ears. And it’s not even a modern habit – or one without impressive defenders: both Lord Byron and Shakespeare treated ‘than’ in this way.
One additional point in favour of using the subject pronoun is that it’s possible to be more precise. Consider these sentences:
- He has more clients than I. [He has more clients than I have.]
- He has more clients than me. [I am not his only client.]
Context and audience
Evidently, the answer to the I-or-me dilemma is not clear cut. So, as with so many issues in writing, the best thing to do is consider your audience and the context in which you’re writing. In formal situations, it would be best to stick with the subject pronoun. Otherwise, you may need to be prepared to fight your corner.