Episode 79: October 12, 2007
Grammar Girl here, or actually for this episode I should say, “'Tis I, Grammar Girl, here to help you understand when to use the words I and me.”.
So this week, Jodie wanted to know which is correct: It is I or It is me. She says that when she answers the phone and the person asks, "Is Jodie there?" she usually responds by saying, "This is she." But one of her friends says this is incorrect, and now they have a $5 bet on the question.
Wow! Ryan, David, Jane, and Iljitsch also asked this question, but they don't have money riding on the answer.
The short answer is that Jodie wins. The traditional grammar rule states when a pronoun follows a linking verb, such as is, it should be in the subject case. That means it is correct to say, “It is I,” and “It was he who dropped the phone in shock when Jodie answered, 'This is she.'”
What are Linking Verbs?
Linking verbs are words like is, was, were, appear, and seem, which don't describe an action so much as describe a state of being. When pronouns follow these non-action verbs, you use the subject pronouns such as I, she, he, they, and we.
Here are some more correct examples:
Who called Jodie? It was he.
Who told you about it? It was I.
Who had the phone conversation? It must have been they.
Who cares? It is we.
Now the problem is that 90 percent of you are almost certainly thinking, “Well, that all sounds really weird. Is she serious?”
Well, yes, I'm serious, and that is the traditional rule, but fortunately most grammarians forgive you for not following the rule. In her aptly titled book Woe Is I, Patricia O'Connor notes that almost everyone says, “It is me,” and that the “It is I” construction is almost extinct (1). Most other grammarians agree that unless you're answering the phone for the English department at the University of Chicago or responding to a Supreme Court judge, it's OK to use what sounds right and therefore, “That's me” is an acceptable answer (2, 3, 4, 5). So even though Jodie is technically correct, it would probably be more fair for her and her friend to take the $5 and go get a cold beverage together.
Rather You Than Me Versus Rather You Than I
On a related note, a listener named Jane wanted to know whether it is correct to say, “Rather you than me,” or “Rather you than I,” and the answer is similar to the “it is I” situation.
Traditional grammar rules state that you use the subject pronoun, I, after words such as than and as. So the correct answer is that when Jane's friends are in trouble, she can say, “Rather you than I.” On the other hand, using the object pronoun, me, is so common that most grammarians also accept “Rather you than me.”
I hate it when language is in flux like this because it's easy to get confused. But a lot of people have asked me these questions, and in the end, I believe it's best to know the traditional rules and then if you decide to break them you can do so knowingly and with conviction.
So until next time, it is I, Grammar Girl, who thank you for listening.