(from Seinfeld)

-- We could build a cabin like that.

-- Well, maybe not us, but two men could.

I would use we instead of us. Is us here grammatically correct?

  • 3
    This is a good question. I can tell you that us is the accepted choice here and that we doesn't work. I can also tell you that "Well, maybe we couldn't" is also correct, but I can't tell you why.
    – Jim
    Aug 20, 2014 at 5:35
  • 3
    The accusative "us" is the more natural choice. And Seinfeld agrees with us.
    – F.E.
    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:13
  • Quite opposite to Jim's comment, I think we works better. Who built a cabin like that? We (not Us) did! Not only that, while renaming the subject, we use subject pronoun. For example: It is we who are responsible for this mess. Anyway +1
    – Maulik V
    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:14
  • 2
    @MaulikV- we works generally, but not with "not us" and I see you've come to that realization too, given your deleted answer.
    – Jim
    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:31
  • 2
    Perhaps this post might have some related info for you: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/31639/not-they-or-not-them/… -- notice example [14.i] and the discussion related to it.
    – F.E.
    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:55

2 Answers 2


"Us" is more idiomatic. Consider this sentence:

He asked three people to dinner, but he didn't ask me.

"Me" is in the accusative here, because it's the object of the verb "to ask."

The sentence you're asking about is, in essence the same sentence. You are approaching it as if the full sentence represented by "not us" would be something like "Us couldn't build it." In fact, the whole sentence would more likely be unpacked something like this:

Well, not us, but two men could.

Two men could, but not us.

Two men could build it, but not us.

Two men could build it, but those two men are not us.

My theory is that "us" is accurate because this is an implied parallel construction, and the subject of both halves is "two men." So you would use the accusative just as you would in any other parallel construction:

I like her, but not him.

If the subject or verb was included, it would eliminate any ambiguity, and in that case, with the appropriate addition, either "us" or "we" would be idiomatic:

Two men could, but we couldn't.

Two men could, but they're not us.

  • Your examples "he didn't ask me" and "I like her but not him" aren't parallel, because "me" and "him" are clearly the objects of "ask" and "like" respectively. It's not so clear-cut whether the verb "to be" takes nominative or accusative for its objects (consider "I am he" or "it was I who stole your money") and I think you need to address that directly. Sep 30, 2014 at 10:57

“Why not we”

is grammatically correct, though uncommon in general usage. Using ‘we’ in the above construct is no different than

“Why couldn’t we?”

One wouldn’t say

“Why couldn’t us ...(do that). “

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