You and I / You and me: Mistakes and changes in modern British English

All people, including native speakers, make mistakes in the language (most commonly in speaking). These mistakes sometimes become part of the language itself. Language is never static and is always changing.

Standard English

In fact, English is like most other languages in the world, it’s the result of some historical event, purely accidental. If in the 9th Century the Vikings had been victorious in their war with King Alfred, Britain, and English, would have been very different.

Dialect

Dialect is not for those who are ‘uneducated’ or spoken by ‘lazy’ people who never studied grammar. The only difference between standard English and any other dialect of English is that it is used for official purposes in government and law etc. All dialects are unique and have their own historical background. The Black Country accent for example, in the West Midlands, is one of Britain’s oldest and can be traced back to Early Modern English, spoken in the 1600s.

Differences in use

Many people argue that there is only one ‘correct’ version of the language and those who use the others are making mistakes:

‘Correct’ form ‘Mistakes’
John and I went to the cinema John and me went to the cinema
They’re different from us They’re different to us
Fewer people Less people
Somebody’s dropped his or her keys Somebody’s dropped their keys
I’m unemployed at present I’m unemployed presently

In fact, these ‘mistakes’ have been found in use of English for centuries, and are not wrong. Be warned, however, that some of them are more informal and would be out of place in a formal setting.

You and I

We often use the object from of a pronoun in double subjects in colloquial speech.

“Barry and me are going to the pub this weekend”.

And sometimes, we use subject forms in double objects

I often think of the old days and how you helped Bernie and I. (Example taken from letter of Queen Elizabeth)

There are also examples of me in a double subject in Jane Austen’s novels.

Different

The accepted preposition for ‘different’ is ‘from’, however in Britain, ‘to’ is often used.

American football is different from/to soccer.

We also sometimes use than, which is very common in American English

The shirt is different than I expected.

Less

Standard less is used only with uncountable nouns, it is the comparative form of little. Fewer is the comparative form of few and usually goes with countable nouns

I have less time to complete my homework now!

I have fewer videos than I used to have.

In an informal style, however less is commonly placed before countable and uncountable nouns. Some people feel quite passionately about this and consider it a mistake.

less

Prescriptivism

When people consider the examples above ‘wrong’ they are being prescriptive. What this means is that rules are made by people who think that they can protect a language from change. These often have very little effect on the language, which changes anyway, of course. Be careful of too many prescriptive rules, they often give false information about the language.

How do ‘mistakes’ enter the language?

When someone makes a mistake in their speech it might influence the person they are talking to. Sometimes, this mistake spreads and becomes part of the language and no longer becomes a mistake. For example the phrase ‘oblivious of’ used to mean ‘forgetful of’ but now is used to mean ‘unconscious of’.

How else does language change?

  • Languages simplify themselves

Usually, languages tend to simplify themselves over time, for English speakers it is quite common to ‘balance’ both clauses of the conditional. This is incredibly common in speech and most people probably don’t believe they say it!

“If I’d have gone to the party, I’d have called you”

  • Dialects influence each other.

Some dialects have a huge influence on the other: American on British, for example. It is now rather common for British people to say:

“Can I get a can of coke?” as opposed to the more standard form “Could I have a can of coke?”

  • Sometimes the differences aren’t important

It’s quite common for speakers to confuse forms in speech. So don’t worry so much about getting the correct form of sink/sank/sunk and lay/laid etc.

“He wrote 8 operas, all of which sunk without trace” (BBC Radio 4)

Some other changes

  • Who is replacing whom.

Who do you trust?” (1992 Election slogan)

  • Shall and should as first-person have been replaced by Will and Would

We will be in touch soon

  • Subjunctive were is not as common as it used to be

If I was ten years younger, I’d do the job myself

  • Some adverbs are dropping –ly

You pronounced it wrong

  • Some American prepositional uses and phrasal verbs are being used

The trains will not run due to engineering work on weekends

We met with our friends yesterday

I spoke with Brian at the meeting

  • Past Simple preferred to Present perfect with Just and Already

I just left home

I already said to you before!

So what should I study?

For most of you, it is best that you study one of the standard models like British or American English. Neither of them are better or more correct than the other, and they are understood everywhere. The differences between them are generally insignificant.

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