Gordon P. Hemsley

Linguist by day. Web developer by night.

“Patton and I”—Object or Subject?

Posted by Gordon P. Hemsley on February 2, 2010

[Note: I know I haven’t posted in a while. That’s the kind of relationship I have with my blogs. I also know that, when I do post, I post about computer stuff. But this is my blog, about my life. And my life also involves linguistics stuff. So here’s the first of what will likely be a number of posts relating to linguistics. If that bothers you… deal with it.]

Last night, while at the Grammys, Al Yankovic (you know, Weird Al) tweeted a picture with a caption that read:

Patton and I having a last-minute brawl before the show.

Knowing that he is usually as much of a stickler for grammar as I am (perhaps even moreso), I tweeted to him:

@alyankovic Patton and *me*, Al. Come on! You know better!

I was hoping to get a response from him, but I instead got a response from Jacinta of New Hampshire. (Not having much evidence to go on, I’m going to assume this person is female for the remainder of this post.) Here’s what she said:

@GPHemsley sorry, but Al is right… it’s Patton and *I*

To that, I replied with:

@Jacinta716 Not it’s not. “Patton and I” is the object of the untensed sentence fragment, so it should be “Patton and me”. #linguistics

As an aside (and another attempt to get Al to weigh in), I also tweeted:

I may have just started a grammar war on Twitter about a simple caption for a photo @alyankovic took. #linguistics

After that, Jacinta really let me have it. She devoted five tweets in a row to supporting her claim:

@GPHemsley “Patton and I” is the SUBJECT of this sentence; Al is correct.

@GPHemsley You use the same pronoun as you would if you had a singular subject in the sentence.

@GPHemsley Patton is texting like a 12 year-old girl. I am texting like a 12 year-old girl. Patton and I are texting like 12 year-old girls.

(I realized later that this was referencing another tweet that Al had made afterwards.)

@GPHemsley “Patton and I” is not the object. If you said “someone is throwing incorrect grammar rules at Patton and me” then you’d be right.

@GPHemsley “Patton and I” is not part of a sentence fragment. Although this is. And so is this. Which is why Al is right. And you are not.

And then she added:

@GPHemsley I wouldn’t call it a war. It’s…an educated discussion. It’s a lot better than most of the crap that people put on Twitter! 😉

Originally, I started tweeting back to her:

@Jacinta716 “Patton and I” is not the subject of the sentence. The subject of the sentence is implied; it refers to the picture.

@Jacinta716 The difference with these examples is that they are tensed. In that last sentence, “Patton and I” is indeed correct.

I was going attempt to diagram the sentence using bracket notation and go on to further support my claim. But when I went to phpSyntaxTree to diagram it for real, I realized I had a problem. The way I was diagramming it did indeed put “Patton and I” in the subject position of the subordinate sentence (which is still untensed):
[S [NP This] [Aux ] [VP [V is] [NP [NP a picture] [PP [P of] [S [NP Patton and me] [VP [V having] [NP a last-minute brawl]] [PP before the show]]]]]]
However, the point of view I was arguing was that the picture itself was the subject and “Patton and I/me” was the object. (I originally tweeted the sentence that included the implied part, but I later deleted it. I used that sentence in the diagram.)

Now, here’s the problem. I still think I’m right in saying that “Patton and I/me” is the object of the sentence and that it should be “me”, not “I”. But right now I’m at a loss to explain why. It doesn’t help that my diagram doesn’t take full advantage of X-Bar Theory and its extensions/improvements (and, thus, uses ternary branching to attach an adjunct), nor that I haven’t drawn the semantic relationships between words. But I wanted to get this down in a format longer than 140 characters so that a proper discussion could be had.

So… Is “Patton and I/me” the object or the subject? Is it both? Is there a different implication that could be had that could change the answer to those questions? What is the grammar of picture captions, specifically, and sentence fragments, in general?

This post seems to raise more questions than it answers, but it’s quite likely that I’ve made a mistake somewhere in my diagram that would lead me down this path. Please correct me if you can. Otherwise, let the discussion begin!

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3 Responses to ““Patton and I”—Object or Subject?”

  1. dhdeter said

    ‘Patton and I’ is the subject of the tenseless (non-finite) verb ‘having’. It is nonsense to say it is the object.

    As is normal, the subject of a non-finite verb is in the objective case. e.g. in “Me finding the way was a miracle.”, ‘Me’ is the subject of ‘finding’ but it has objective case.

    So it is correct that it should be ‘me’ not ‘I’; but your explanation is flawed.

    • GPHemsley said

      I wasn’t attempting to claim that “Patton and I” was the object of “having”; I was attempting to claim that it was the object of the implied “is”, from “this is a picture of”.

      But, apparently, the sense I was getting was actually objective case, rather than an actual object. (I was unaware of the concept itself.)

      This just goes back to grammatical intuition, I suppose: I knew what was right; I just didn’t know why.

  2. quiveria said

    Technically, you’re both wrong and both right until the actual sentence is defined.

    As-is, the sentence is a fragment. Either it is missing a subject or an auxiliary verb.

    “This is a picture of Patton and me having a last minute brawl before the show.” – What you assumed the caption’s sentence is.

    OR

    “Patton and I are having a last minute brawl before the show.” – What Jacinta seems to have assumed it is.

    Either way, this is Schrödinger’s Cat. Both of you are right and wrong until someone confirms with Al what it is he originally meant to say. You could argue that, as a caption, your version /should/ be what he meant, but that doesn’t change the reality of what he actually meant to say. The question is the mechanics of the sentence as Al meant it, not which sentence Al should have used to fit the classical style of proper photo-captioning.

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