It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets, not me.

Should "him" be replaced by "he" and "me" be replaced by "I"?

  • As is reads just fine. Replacing him with he does not work. Replacing me with I though does sound fine. For 100% grammar, I think I is more correct, but again, me and I both work. Jul 31 '15 at 16:39
  • to be is an intransitive verb, and the pronoun in question refers to the subject. So use subjective "he". As for "not me", the base is "It ought (not) to be me." so again use subjective I. Whether it sounds right is another matter.
    – user3169
    Jul 31 '15 at 18:36
  • Careful with that - "to be" here is not serving as an intransitive verb, but rather as the copula (which is treated as transitive in English). X = Y --> It [ought to be] him.
    – akedrou
    Jul 31 '15 at 21:27
  • 4
    No, be is always intransitive.
    – user230
    Jul 31 '15 at 22:55
  • 1
    Also perhaps consider the neutral: "It ought to be him who you share your secrets with, not me."
    – F.E.
    Jul 31 '15 at 23:29

This sentence is already extremely stiff and formal sounding:

It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets, not me.

You can replace me with I without a change in meaning, but it becomes even more formal and even less natural:

It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets, not I.

In natural speech, people are far more likely to use not me. Of course, since your sentence is already hyper-formal, you might actually prefer to use the unnatural not I.

But if you'd like to use natural English, you could say something like this (depending on context):

You should tell him, not me.

Simple and to the point.

  • Why not "it ought to be he" for the hyper-formal version? Jul 31 '15 at 23:05
  • +1, but perhaps you could expand on your post to explain what it is of the example that makes the example sound extremely stiff and formal. Aside: maybe also a comment on the style level and acceptability of something like "It ought to be he with whom you share your secrets, not I." :)
    – F.E.
    Jul 31 '15 at 23:05
  • And why the dummy pronoun when we have one? He ought to be the one... Jul 31 '15 at 23:06
  • If you were going to speak in formal English, you would expect that the case of both "him" and "I" match... Not sure why you're saying that it should be "It should be him, not I"
    – akedrou
    Aug 1 '15 at 4:54
  • As for the dummy pronoun: You could absolutely say "He ought to be the one with whom you share your secrets, not I." All you have done there is shifted the copula, but since we can't have a dummy object, the entire phrase is made into a relative clause - "He | ought to be | the one with whom you share your secrets". That is now just a simple copula: A (ought to) = B. Both are used simply for emphasis. The "it is" sounds a bit more archaic/literary, but really both are uncommon. "You should share your secrets with him, not me" is by far the most common modern formation.
    – akedrou
    Aug 1 '15 at 5:09

Agreed that "him" and "me" serve the same function and should be in the same case; but the case should be nominative, to follow the case of the subject "it," dummy it may be in this construction. Here "whom" carries the freight as object. But is it I whom you should trust?

Should add that rewriting to get rid of the dummy construction, as others have suggested, is the most elegant solution.


This is a fun sentence, and as written is correct.

What it comes down to is that "be" is serving as a dummy copula in a fronted expression and so its object (him) should match the case it would be in were it not fronted. Want more information?

Your sentence is, in the most direct language (though with a slightly different meaning):

You ought to share your secrets with him, not me.

Let's ignore the "not me" for now.

The speaker chose to front (emphasize) the "with" clause, which in English we do by bringing a dummy "be" with a null subject ("it") to the front of the sentence. We fronted "him", and this fronting should not change the grammatical case of the word.

It is him with whom you ought to share your secrets.

Now interestingly, by moving that "ought to" to the dummy verb, we're softening the obligatory nature of the sentence. By saying "It ought", the obligation is placed on the dummy rather than on "you", which makes it read like a statement about how the nature of things should be rather than a direct expression of obligation. It's quite similar to how passive voice would sound.

It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets.

Now that we've done all that, you can see that "me" should be in the same case as "him" because it's offered as replacement for him. And so it is. So:

It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets, not me.

Final note: Many native speakers will strongly desire to make that final "me" into "I". This is because the language of this sentence is quite formal. We are taught in grammar classes that we overuse "me" when we should use "I" (such as saying "You and me" instead of "You and I"), and so when encountering a very formal phrase many people are prone to overcorrecting! This is technically wrong, but the sentence sounds old already, and "not I" would make it seem even more old sounding. At that point the character it adds is more significant than the incorrect grammar in a difficult-to-parse sentence!

  • I don't think this is prescriptively correct. The problematic concept is this: "We fronted 'him', and this fronting should not change the grammatical case of the word." Actually, it seems the case should change, because we introduced the nominative pronoun "it" as the antecedent, and prescriptively a pronoun after the copula should agree in case with its antecedent. The relative clause is in the accusative, but the pronoun before it should be in the nominative. I found a parallel example in an old grammar book.
    – sumelic
    Apr 9 '16 at 1:14
  • books.google.com/… The book is called Correct English, Volumes 20-21. The example sentence: "I hardly think that it was he to whom Mr. Blank referred." This is a fronted version of "I hardly think that Mr. Blank referred to him."
    – sumelic
    Apr 9 '16 at 1:16
  • Because of this, I downvoted. If you can cite a source that supports your position, please let me know!
    – sumelic
    Apr 9 '16 at 1:19
  • Well, the grammar books are going to be with you on this one, but I was speaking from the perspective of a modern user of the language. "Is that Bob?" "Yes, it is he!" is downright absurd sounding. The natural response is "Yes, it is him!". I can try and dig up some sources that cite that as being unused today - but any "style guide" type writing will preserve that usage.It's always a question of whether you want to sound like a native user of the language or not, but I generally approach these questions with that goal in mind, rather than with an eye for academic prescription.
    – akedrou
    Apr 11 '16 at 18:33
  • I'd agree with that, but in that case the fronting argument seems irrelevant. Also, in that case using "I" at the end would not be technically wrong, as you state.
    – sumelic
    Apr 11 '16 at 19:09

The easiest way to think about this is to split the two people into two different sentences, like this:

"It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets."

"It ought not to be I with whom you share your secrets."

Therefore, your correct sentence is:

"It ought to be him with whom you share your secrets, not I."

  • Why "him" instead of "he"? Why "I" instead of "me"? Please explain.
    – sumelic
    Apr 8 '16 at 3:00

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