like you and I

Caught this morning on public radio station KALW, during its beg-a-thon:

… because listeners like you and I agree that …

It’s the nominative case of I that’s the issue, and the example illustrates two different points of usage:

(a) pronoun case in combinations with like (and as, beside(s), including, and than); and

(b) pronoun case in coordination.

Collecting examples of people like you and I — there’s a huge number of them — then led me to blogger Melanie Spiller, puzzling over such examples in 2006 and concluding (via tortured grammatical reasoning) that I was the correct pronoun form.

First, a sampling of people like you and I examples, in several syntactic functions:

TV FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND I (link) [object of preposition]

Salem, its people like you and I who are going to cause this election to go badly. (link) [predicative]

You were wrong!
There was grace!
You saw the enemy,
I saw your face.
People like you and I
spinning through space.[Ed Kowalczyk, “Grace”] (link) [subject]

“People like you and I, though mortal of course, like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live.” [attributed to Albert Einstein] (link) [subject]

These research prizes are funded by donations from the public, and helping to grow the prize pools to attract new competitors is one of the ways in which ordinary people like you and I can make a difference: (link) [subject]

Now Spiller’s reasoning, in “The Complexities of Like” on 2/14/06:

My dad and I were sitting over the ruins of a holiday feast. I paused in whatever I was expounding upon to correct my own grammar, and thence was launched an interesting foray into one of the complexities of the English language.

Here’s what I said that gave me pause:
People, like you and I, want to visit such a place.

I needed a moment to think about whether it was “you and me” or “you and I.” “You and I” is correct because “people” includes “you” and the speaker (me), so the subject is the same and the case is the same. I wouldn’t have had the question at all, if I hadn’t tried to include my dad.

This is correct:
People like me want to visit the place.

So why doesn’t the same subject rule apply for “like you and I”?

The reason is that the word “like” takes a different form in each of those sentences. We were perplexed by this inconsistency, so we pulled up the dictionary. Hold onto your hats: I think you’re about to be very surprised. The word “like” has nine functions!

She goes on to list these, and to conclude that in her original example like is a conjunction (while in the non-coordinate example, like is a preposition). Although the steps in her reasoning aren’t laid out, she seems to be assuming that like you and I is elliptical, for like you and I do ‘(just) as you and I do, the way you and I do’ (with do cataphoric to want to visit such a place).

A risky line to take, since parallel reasoning could lead you to argue for people like I in the non-coordinate case. Indeed, there are a small number of examples of like plus a nominative, in the “Anita Loos construction” (as in the title of Loos’s 1966 autobiography, A Girl Like I); there’s one example in Geoff Nunberg’s “Anita Loos is alive and living in Brooklyn” —

From the “Vows” feature in the Weddings/Celebrations pages of today’s New York Times style section: It was Mr. Hernandez, along with Brian Brooks, also of IndieWire, who prodded Ms. Torneo to meet Mr. Paladino, who like she, lived in Brooklyn.

and one I unearthed this morning:

I hope that people like he will be in the jury for germany but also for all other countrys (link)

(Thanks to the multifunctionality of like, examples aren’t easy to search for.)

Similarly with as:

Al Sanders was ranked first after the initial five rounds; I sat at the same table as he at the next day’s preawards lunch and came to know him a little better. (Marc Romano, Crossworld (NY: Broadway Books, 2005), p. 133)

Dan’s eyes glowed.  “They’re grass-fed, and she lets them run as free as you or I.” (Adam Gopnik, Through the Children’s Gate, p. 170; about calves raised for veal)

[Michelle Villette and Catherine Vuillermot in “From Predators to Icons”] go on, “The businessman looks for partners to a transaction who do not have the same definition as he of the value of the goods exchanged …”  (Malcolm Gladwell, “The Sure Thing”, New Yorker 1/18/10, p. 25)

And back in March, in “The perils of advice“, I looked at more wonky grammatical reasoning, which led a blogger to conclude that you should use the nominative with including, in everyone including I — a usage that’s surprisingly common. (This posting also looked at case selection with than.)

So, with respect to the feature (a) above, there’s some precedent for people using a (non-standard) nominative with various items that are in fact functioning as prepositions.

Then to feature (b). Here we have a familiar phenomenon, the very widely used nominative conjoined object (NomConjObj), as in between you and I. Put the two effects together, and people like you and I can begin to sound right, so Spiller struggled to justify this feeling.

An early commenter of Spiller’s posting zeroed in on the situation for (conservative) standard English:

NO! “People, like you and I, want to visit such a place” is wrong wrong wrong. Would you say “People, like we, want to visit such a place”? Of course not. The commas don’t change the case of the pronouns! Or is it the number that’s confusing you? Why do you think that a plural takes a difference case than a singular pronoun? It’s “People like you and me” or “People like us” or “People like Karen and me,” or whatever. The commas do nothing but indicate an appositive. You wouldn’t say, “People, like I,” would you? The word “like” is not functioning as a conjunction in either of the examples you gave; it’s a preposition, and thus it takes an object pronoun. The same would be true if, instead of “like,” you used “including” or “except for” or “such as.”

A later commenter appeals to a version of the Ignore Other People principle I mentioned in my “perils of advice” posting: disregard the other conjunct(s) and focus on the pronoun by itself:

Completely wrong – break it up into “People like you and people like I… and it makes no sense. Should be “me” as in “People like you and people like me … !!

But then there’s the appositive issue. The first commenter above simply denies that this factor is relevant, but a later commenter takes it up:

However, it goes a step further. What I believe the original argument is, is that in the case of “People, like you and I, want to visit such a place”, the construct “like you and I” is serving as an example of People. Another example of this sentence structure is “Dogs, like retrievers and labs, are loyal animals”.

The reasoning here seems to be that like should be treated like for example (introducing an appositive modifier) in this case. This reduces the question to case choice with for example. Of these two, which to choose?

(i) People, for example you and I, want to visit such a place.

(ii) People, for example you and me, want to visit such a place.

There are hardly any examples of type (i) or type (ii), with … people, for example you and I/me as subject. So looking at actual usage is a wash.

However, this commenter then carries the reasoning through to the bitter end:

In this — albeit strange and a bit grammatically perverse — approach, I see no harm in saying “People, like I, are mortal”.

Ick. Here it’s easy to find examples of … people, for example me as subject, like:

Subject: How come some people, for example me, suck at video games? (link)

(and these strike me as natural). But attempting to search for … people, for example I as subject pulls up so many irrelevant examples that I can’t gauge whether this variant occurs with any frequency.

In any case, there’s no reason to think that appositives with like should have the same syntax as appositives with for example.

The overall conclusion is that trying to reason your way through to judgments on usage is a perilous business; earnest, well-meaning people can be led far astray.


7 Responses to “like you and I”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    Without the commas, “… because listeners like you and I agree that …” no doubt sounds better to many than “…like you and me…” for the reasons you laid out in your 2005 LL post “Case nuances“: “the effect seems to have something to do with the fact that the coordinate NP is interpreted as the subject of the VP that follows it.”

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    Whoever wrote the text of “I Wonder as I Wander” has a lot to answer for

  3. Melanie Spiller Says:

    Thanks for the shout out! If people want to read the rest of my article, it’s here: .
    Melanie Spiller

  4. Greg Lee Says:

    As I read through the examples, the “like you and I” construction sounded better and better.

  5. the ridger Says:

    And this is why pronoun declension should follow noun declension into oblivion! If “you” and “it” can meld their nominative and objective form and not bring comprehension to a screaming halt, so too could “I, he, she, we” and “they”.

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