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I'm reading Dracula's sequel, Dracula: The Un-dead. This sentence is taken from chapter 48.

Thoughts of Dracula seeped into Mina's mind. God help her. What if it was he?

I'm not sure if it's a printing error or some old-English style of writing but according to me, the "he" in this sentence should be "him". Any idea?

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    Both are fine. he is rather formal. – user178049 May 27 '17 at 20:26
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    "What if it was he?" is the kind of overwrought language that makes it sound like a real bodice-ripper. But otherwise see this – Andrew May 27 '17 at 20:33
  • @Andrew The second link made it all clear to me. Could you please write it as an answer so I can accept it. It's a great explanation and I think it'd be helpful to others. – 7_R3X May 28 '17 at 5:34
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You can use the subjective form because it (he) is not an object; rather, it's a predicative complement1 of the copular (was).

However, the objective form (him) is the most natural way of using it in daily conversations. The subjective form (he) is just too formal and is not a suitable for casual use.


1 If you are not sure whether a noun is an object or a predicative complement. You can try the passivation test to confirm it

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it was he

is actually correct. The subjective is used after a be-ing verb.

Most people will understand

it was him

Just as most people will use

It is me

instead of the correct

It is I.

  • Peter I don't quite get it, why is he correct? Let's say somebody asks, "Who did it?". One should answer, "It was me" or "I did it" and not "It was I". – SovereignSun May 28 '17 at 6:14
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    The correct answer is "It was I", however common usage has become "It was me" which technically is incorrect, this issue comes up every now and then in ELL – Peter May 28 '17 at 6:20
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    Not so, I'm afraid, Peter. There is no rule of English grammar requiring a nominative form where a pronoun is complement of the verb "be". Accusative "me" is just as correct as nominative "I". – BillJ May 28 '17 at 9:57

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