English mysteries: Why do we use a capital for "I" but not "me"

I’ve been an English teacher for quite a long time. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of people’s writing. In that writing, I’ve seen a lot mistakes. Of all those mistakes, there is one in particular that stands out:

Forgetting to use a capital ‘I’ when writing in the first person.

I can see why this is easy to forget. We have rules for using capital letters but ‘I’ doesn’t really follow them. It’s easy to remember to use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, for proper nouns and for names. ‘I’ isn’t any of those, though – ‘I’ is a pronoun, like ‘me’ or ‘you’. So, why don’t ‘me’ or ‘you’ need capital letters?

Well, the short answer is that nobody really knows. Even etymologists (people who study the history of words) don’t know for sure. There are, however, some theories:

1. The pronunciation of ‘I’ has changed over time

It used to be a short sound because it came from the same sound as the German word ‘ich’ (a short ‘i’ sounds like the ‘i’ in ‘ticket’). When it became our modern, long ‘I’ sound (like in ‘bike’) we made the letter bigger to show it was a longer sound.

2. A small ‘i’ is too difficult to read

It’s easier to see a capital ‘I’ when used by itself, so people started using it in that way to make their writing easier to read.

3. To show that the person writing is important

Using a capital for ‘I’ but not ‘you’ might help the writer have more authority. This doesn’t explain why we don’t use a capital for ‘me’, though.

4. To give English a clear identity as a national language

English wasn’t always the official language of England. At times in the past, the rulers of the country have spoken Latin, or even old forms of French. This is one reason why rules for English grammar and spelling aren’t always predictable) When English became the official language of the county, people made slight changes to give it more authority. Perhaps using capital ‘I’ was one of those changes.

Although we’ll probably never know the real answer to this question, it’s interesting to know the theories. However, the most important thing is to remember to use a capital ‘I’ when writing about yourself.

Which of the theories do you think is true? Which did you find the most interesting? Share this mystery with your friends or leave your answers in the comments section below.