nomconjobjs: between you and me/I

Mon Feb 22 17:40:22 UTC 2010

        It's difficult to get good numbers on the comparative frequency
of "between you and me" and "between you and I."  Google reports raw
hits of 26 million for "between you and I" and only 975,000 for "between
you and me" (slightly fewer in each case with SafeSearch turned on).
However, actually clicking to see how many hits can be found produces
much smaller and more comparable numbers:  649 for "between you and I,"
588 for "between you and me" (in each case, with the caveat that Google
has omitted some entries very similar to those displayed).

        That seems suggest that, in the free-wheeling world of the web,
the two phrases are about equal in popularity, with the edge to "between
you and I," but it's hard to have a lot of confidence in these numbers.
A different result obtains with Google News, where "between you and me"
gives 58 hits (150 including similar entries) and "between you and I"
only 14.  But the Google News results are of uncertain signification
without examining them one at a time, since they are a mixture of edited
text, unedited blogs, and quotations from interviews and oral
statements.  They do seem to indicate that, as expected, "between you
and me" is preferred in edited text.

        Then I had an idea:  Legal opinions hardly ever include "between
you and me" or "between you and I," except when they are quoting
witnesses' testimony.  So data from legal opinions should provide a
quite reliable assessment of relative frequency.  I did three searches
for each phrase:  For legal opinions before 1945, for legal opinions
after 1999, and for all available American legal opinions.  Results were
as follows:

        --Before 1945:  123 instances of "between you and me," 67 of
"between you and I."

        --After 1999:  121 instances of "between you and me," 50 of
"between you and I."

        --All opinions:  377 instances of "between you and me," 222 of
"between you and I."

        I draw two conclusions from the legal opinion data.  First,
although "between you and I" was and is common, it remains less common
than "between you and me" in speech, at least the speech that witnesses
use in their testimony (where, one might suppose, hypercorrection could
be an issue).  Second, there does not appear to be any marked trend in
its relative frequency.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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