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MY FRIENDS AND I WOULD NEVER SAY `ME AND MY FRIENDS'

SIR: I constantly hear people say things like "Me and my mother did this" or "Me and my boyfriend did that." I was always taught that "me" was to be used objectively. Also, I was taught that putting "me" or "I" first in such cases is not only poor grammar but also a discourtesy to the other person or persons involved. Have they changed the rules? And do you think all this is a by-product of the "me" generation? - Betty S.

ANSWER: You and I know those phrases should be "My mother and I" and "My boyfriend and I," don't we?Use of "me" as a subject is always wrong, of course, and people seldom do it except in compound subjects. Few would say, "Me did that." As for putting the first person pronoun last instead of first, that has been considered an important courtesy for generations, but it's being observed less and less these days. You may have a point; perhaps the "me" generation really is to blame.

SIR: To settle an argument, I would like to know if it is OK to say "rift" instead of "burp" or "belch." Thank you. - Mrs. M.W.

ANSWER: Sure, if you accept Scotch dialect. At any rate, the word's in the "Oxford English Dictionary," which notes that in 1797, a poet wrote, "His stomach is so full of ire/That when he rifts he belches fire." Somehow, I don't think you'd wish to speak of rifting the baby after its bottle.

SIR: Do you hyphenate "house-broken"? If so, do you call the term an adjective? - S. H.

ANSWER: No, I don't hyphenate it. Yes, it's an adjective, hyphenated or not.

SIR: Would you write "Moses' laws" or "Moses's laws?" If the former is correct (I assume it is), would you pronounce an extra "s" as if you had written it "Moses's laws?" - Stuart H.

ANSWER: Great battles are waged over the question of forming possessives for names or other words ending in "s," and by now it has become mostly a matter of preference. In short, you can find authorities who recommend either or both versions, so suit yourself or check the style of the publication if you're writing for one. As for pronouncing the extra "s" if you use it, I wouldn't in this case. But in the case of "St. James's square," I would.

CONFUSING SIGN of the week, noted and reported by William O'B.:

"No Unauthorized Trespassing."

Send questions, comments, and good and bad examples to Lydel Sims, Watch Your Language, P.O. Box 161280, Memphis, 38186. If you quote a book, please give author, title and page number. Sorry, but questions can be answered only through this column.

-Lydel Sims of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis writes this column weekly.