To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

My chum Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter is astonishingly creative. It is perhaps not surprising that she is very literate as her mother has been a columnist for multiple broadsheet newspapers and has written books while her father also writes for a prominent broadsheet newspaper.

But she is also very musically and visually talented – again, something in the genes.

Last week, she got a new painting set as an early 10th birthday present and did this:

Admittedly it is based on an image she saw online. But the original has different colour tones, the blossoms on the tree are different and there are no blossoms coming off the tree. The original is a daytime image. Hers is, she says, “around six o’clock in the evening”.

She recently asked people she knows to write honest essays about her for her 10th birthday next week. So she can know what people think of her.

Last night, her mother showed me some of the essay she has written about her daughter. It included the sentence: “I’m so pleased you’re following in the footsteps of your father and I and expressing yourself creatively.”

The following text exchange then followed:


JOHN

I am always a bit vague on this but should it be “your father and me”?

‘You’ is subject; ‘following’ is verb; ‘footsteps’ = object?

But fuck knows how your father and I/me fits in. Clearly I need remedial education.

Genuinely flummoxed.

ARIANE

I have no idea but I asked a friend who didn’t know either – and he is a linguist! 😂


ARIANE: Hi – need grammar help! I want to say that I’m pleased she’s following in my and her dad’s footsteps, but how do I word it? 

“I’m so pleased that you’re following in the footsteps of myself and your father”?

or “of your father and I”?

or “of your father and me”?

FRIEND: I’m struggling too. Whichever way you say it, it sounds stiff and unidiomatic, which indicates to me that it needs rephrasing. Is it possible to mention her father and you in the previous sentence and then say: “I’m so pleased that you’re following in our footsteps”? Sorry I can’t be more helpful.


JOHN (to ARIANE)

The only person who’s going to know is your daughter and we can’t ask her!

Maybe “I’m so pleased that you’re expressing yourself creatively” – to disguise the fact that you, your friend and I are utterly illiterate!

ARIANE

Ha ha! Yes maybe 😂🤣

ME

It’s a sobering fact that you are a multi-titled broadsheet columnist with multiple books out… I was paid by Random House (the world’s biggest publisher) to edit a bestselling book… and your friend was a university lecturer possibly with academic publications to his name…

…and none of us knows how to write a basic English sentence!

ARIANE

Ha ha! To be fair, it’s a VERY difficult sentence! xxx

ME

Hah! Says you!

ARIANE

I don’t think my friend had stuff published in journals. His wife did, and she had a PhD. But he’s no slouch either! 

JOHN

My excuse is that I was mostly educated in Essex.

What’s your excuse?

I bet your daughter knows. She’s already got better vocabulary than we do.

ARIANE

She is amazing. 🥰 

JOHN

I’m off to bed now.

(LONG GAP)

JOHN

…talk about sleepless nights!

I was dozing off and “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and I” started swirling in my head!

The problem is it’s about the possession of the footsteps, not about subject-verb-object. So maybe both “I” AND “me” are wrong.

The actual thing being communicated is “you’re following in your father’s footsteps and in my footsteps”.

So I guess it should be “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and of mine”

But that and “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and mine” both sound ridiculous, so can’t sensibly be used.

I think it’s a balance between being grammatically correct and sounding right.

So it’s a case, as your friend said, of rephrasing … or of just tossing a coin about I and me.

ARIANE

Ha ha! Thanks for email, just read it. I think I‘ll stick with father and I… it’ll do.

JOHN

Yeah. Like I say. To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

I’m off to sleep now… I hope.

Unless I’m visited by the ghost of Dr Johnson.

1 Comment

Filed under Language, Writing

One response to “To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

  1. Lynn Bell

    In every aspect of grammar the correct phrase is “the footsteps of your father and me”.  Subject “I’m so pleased” object “the footsteps of your father and me” or Active “I’m so pleased” passive “in the footsteps of your father and me” or substituting I for me or me/my for I reveals the correct grammar Me so pleased you’re following in the footsteps of  I and your father

    Me head hurts now, I is going to sleep.

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