Don't blame Gerard. It was I who woke you from a sound sleep.

Don't get mad at me! I didn't pull your ponytail! It was he.

Remember the amazing guitarist I met? This is she.

How do they be correct grammatically? Why do object pronouns not be used?

The answer there says:

Because a subject complement provides more information about the subject, use the subject form of the pronoun—even when it sounds strange.

But I could not really understand what the difference it would have made if we had use object pronouns instead?

  • 2
    Using the subjective case is ridiculously formal and stuffy. It is perfectly fine and natural to use the objective case. – BillJ Aug 25 '16 at 7:05
  • 3
    I disagree that it's "ridiculously formal and stuffy" to use the correct case. Does it really sound "ridiculously formal and stuffy" to say, "It was I who discovered the principle", and does it sound correct or educated to say, "It was me who discovered the principle"? Even kids do it, saying "He who smelt it, dealt it", not "Him who..." – stangdon Aug 25 '16 at 11:48
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    While I agree with @stangdon's examples, it definitely can sound ridiculously formal and stuffy. Examples #2 and #3 above just sound ridiculous to me. The only time I think I'd say "this is she" is after answering the phone, in answer to the question "May I speak to [my name]?" But even then I'd be more likely to just say "Speaking." – Emmabee Aug 25 '16 at 16:41
  • @stangdon Prescriptivists maintain that there is a rule of English grammar requiring a nominative form where a pronoun is complement of "be". But there isn't any such rule; it's a myth. The copular verb takes accusative (objective) pronoun complements and so does "than". My advice would be this: If someone knocks at your door, and you say "Who's there?" and what you hear in response is "It is I," don't let them in. It's no one you want to know. – BillJ Aug 25 '16 at 18:57
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    @stangdon I agree that it's not ridiculously formal and stuffy to use the correct case. The problem with your statement is that you're implying that the subjective case is the correct one, which in turn implies that the objective case is incorrect; this is simply false. Both cases are valid options, but the objective case is the normal option. – snailboat Nov 23 '16 at 20:24

Prescriptive grammars, although useful for teaching any second language, need to be used with care. Prescriptive grammars make broad statements about how a language is used, giving shortcuts expressing general rules that can be applied more widely than the few examples you can cram into a textbook. But the shortcomings of prescriptive grammars are
1) as languages change, the statements made can get badly out of date
2) the recommendations can be applied in a context that is wider than the linguistic evidence supports
3) they can be plain wrong!

Don't blame Gerard. It was I who woke you from a sound sleep.

Don't get mad at me! I didn't pull your ponytail! It was he.

Remember the amazing guitarist I met? This is she.

As a native speaker with a degree in linguistics, I disagree with all three of the above examples... I would say 'It was me who woke you,' 'It was him,' and 'This is her'. Yes, there are grammatical arguments for the answers given, but they are all misleading — traditional grammarians tend to look back to the stricter formal grammar of Latin and try to apply it to modern English. Latin grammar was never applicable to English. The resulting sentences would all be stilted and unnatural to a modern native speaker.

The simple answer is that, if a sentence sounds stilted, it is wrong. If you are not sufficiently proficient in English to make this decision yourself, refer to a native speaker, or at least a more proficient speaker, one who you trust to be able to differentiate between sentences that are well-formed and those that are not.

Linguists today work descriptively, describing how a language is used, not prescriptively, prescribing how a language should be used. Language teachers are caught in a bind — language teaching by its very nature is essentially prescriptive. A safer way to impart language is to say "You tend to hear A" rather than "You should say A".

As a case in point, in a paragraph above I have said 'one who you trust'. A prescriptive grammarian would tend to recommend 'one whom you trust', as 'whom' is in the objective relation to 'trust', but modern English usage is fast losing this distinction! Instead of saying "You should use 'whom'", or "You should use 'who'", I would say "Most of the time, you will find the word 'who' in this construction." Even better, if I had some statistics to support my contention (which I don't!), I would say "75% of the time you would find 'who' in this construction." Actual usage will always trump theory.


The verb to be is weird and special, it's a copular verb, so it's "object" is a complement. And a possible complement it can have is a subject complement.

Logically, you can think of it like this: When you are saying "X is Y" you are saying X and Y are equivalent, but there is only one actual thing in that sentence (there's not really another thing that's acting as an object). So in a sense you are "replacing" an existing subject with a better qualified one rather than talking about a second object.

  • Be is always intransitive, so it never takes an object, although it can take certain kinds of complements. This might not be clear to your readers from the scare quotes. – snailboat Nov 23 '16 at 20:25

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