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“This is she” vs. “This is her”

A common example is the phrase “This is she.” used to answer a telephone. ‘She’ is the nominative form of the word, so it cannot be used to describe somebody who is the object of a sentence (in this example, ‘this’ would be the subject). The correct way to phrase the example would be “This is her.”, though most people prefer the familiar businesslike shorthand “Speaking.”


From another site, this was the response:

“This is she” is grammatically correct. The verb “to be” acts as a linking verb, equating subject and object. So this is she and she is this; “she” and “this” are one and the same, interchangeable, and to be truly interchangeable they must both play the same grammatical role—that of the subject.


I am quite confused! I believe “This is her” is correct because it is understood that “speaking” is simply omitted; thus, we know the speaker is implying “This is her speaking” when she answers “This is her.” After all, we ask to speak to her. When she answers that she’s the one who had answered the call, she’s (obviously) speaking at the time. Therefore, it is her speaking.

What is your opinion on the matter?

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When you say "this is her/she," you are not implying the word "speaking." In fact what you are doing is equating yourself to the person for whom the caller is asking. If the caller is asking for Sarah, one could accomplish the same thing by saying "I am Sarah." But instead you are replacing the word "I" with "this" and "Sarah" with the nominative pronoun, in this case "she."

If you still don't buy it, take latin for example (in latin, the rules about which words go in which cases (nominative/accusative/etc) are about smack-on to our own, but they are easier to see because of case endings.) In latin, Sarah would say "ego sum sara" or "I am sarah", and the same grammatical markings would appear on "haec est ea" or "this is she."

illuminatiscott June 15, 2006, 5:03am

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Scott is correct, as is your second link from
More precisely, the verb "to be" is a copulative verb, not a transitive verb. As such, it connects not subject and object, but two noun phrases of the same case. see:

Interestingly, this doesn't mean that you always use the nominative form. The verb "to be" links nominative to nominative or accusative to accusative. As long as the noun on both sides uses the same form.

porsche June 15, 2006, 11:26am

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In traditional grammar, the "complement" of a linking (or copulative) very is called the "predicate nominative." Its name indicates the proper case. Subject and predicate nominative are identities. The predicate nominative indicates what the subject IS rather than what the subject DOES. This is the difference between an "action" verb and a "linking" verb.

Bob June 18, 2006, 9:26am

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Potato Potaato

garthkensington June 19, 2006, 1:33pm

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Or, as Dan Quayle once said, "potatoe".

Anonymous June 19, 2006, 1:47pm

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Is "to be" the only copulative verb in English? It sure seems like it; I can't think of another that works this way.

Note that members of the contrast class to this really shouldn't be called "action" verbs, because not all of them *do* describe what an object does. Consider the verb "to have." There's no sense in which this describes an action, but it definitely takes accusative, not nominative, case:

I have her and she has me.
*I have she and she has I. (Unless you're Tom Lehrer.)

Avrom July 9, 2006, 8:25pm

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Avrom, here is an allegedly complete list of english copula:

Note, none of them seem to allow a sentence with the same me/I, him/he her/she issues to be constructed.

porsche July 10, 2006, 9:15am

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An interesting note:

In Spanish, it is common to respond "soy yo" which means "I'm me".

Morgan July 17, 2006, 6:08am

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Scott, why are you using Latin as an example?

Lots of people say "this is her". Some people (altho not in my part of the world) say "this is she". They are both acceptable

I think these questions are a good way to determine if something is "right" or not: "do I say it in normal speech?" and "is it understandable?"

goofy July 24, 2006, 3:14pm

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Determining if something is right or not by whether a lot of people you know use it is ridiculous. If I used all the terrible English I heard everyday no one would understand a word I said, way to aim low!

Jennifer August 21, 2006, 7:36pm

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You obviously have to use some judgment. You might not want to use slang just because everyone else is using it. But I don't see how using the English you hear everyday means that no one would understand you. Do you not understand the English you hear every day?

Everyone around me says "this is her." No one says "this is she." If the traditional rule differs from what people say, that tells me that something is wrong with the rule, not the speakers.

John Anderson August 22, 2006, 6:07am

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I have been criticized for saying "Is that her?" or "that's her"...and further criticized for saying it's 'common usage'.

I do say "this is she" as a phone response - but saying "is that she?" just doesn't sound right????

Lois August 25, 2006, 7:09am

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I should have said that no one in my part of the world says "this is she." I know that many people do say it. But even for those people, using the subject case after "be" is only used in a restricted set of cases.

John August 25, 2006, 9:44am

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If we follow the prescription that we must use nominative (or subject) case after "be", we get ridiculous things like this:

"Here's a photo of my old hockey team."

"Which one of these players is you?"

(pointing) "Oh, that's I."

goofy August 25, 2006, 9:46am

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I am almost certain that the correct phrase is "This is she". This is because you can ask, "May I please speak TO her?" but in that case, you are using it directly. I like to swap the phrase making it "she is this" or "she is who is speaking" and it just makes more sense, yes?

Kurt August 31, 2006, 8:35am

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"This is her" is correct, because the only people who say "This is she" are people who have been told a rule that's based on one or both of two rules:
1. Language is math.
2. English is a different language.
Languages don't always make sense analytically. Fortunately, they don't have to.

David Fickett-Wilbar September 1, 2006, 7:05pm

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The correct response is "This is she". "Is" is a linking verb and so the complement is subjective not objective. "This is she" is not used very often and because of that it sounds funny. Just because it sounds funny does not mean it is incorrect.

Toria September 6, 2006, 6:29pm

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Then why do I never say "That's I"?

When am I supposed to use the subject case pronouns after "be" and when am I supposed to use the object case? The "rule" is impossible to follow.

goofy September 8, 2006, 8:27pm

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The last comment from goofy is absolutely right. If "This is she" is grammatical (as the Chicago Manual of Style says) then it isn't consistent with general usage of the verb "be". I suppose you could call it an idiom, or more likely, snobbery.

English is a Germanic language, and in general Germanic languages take the nominative case for the object (sometimes called predicate) of the verb "be". Modern German does for all objects of "be", not just pronouns.

Old English did this too, but in the middle ages, English started to change under the influence of French and started using the accusative (me, her, him, us, them) after "be" instead of the nominative (I, she, he, we, they).

If it was true that modern English took the nominative after "be", we would say things like "That's they over there" or "The man who murdered Poirot is he!".

So if anyone tries to tell you that "This is she" is really their natural way of speaking ... they
a) have been dead for several hundred years
b) are a snob
c) have had this rule shoved down their throat by a snob

mofei October 5, 2006, 8:04am

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The latter part of your response (a, b, c) really made me laugh...beautiful!

Great posts from everyone!

And here I thought when I did a Google search on this topic, nothing would come up!

Now, I will leave things at that/this (whole new topic? which one is it? "that" or "this"?) and not to get into a discussion over my usage of the word "And" to start a sentence.

Goodness, English can be a headache ;)

Nora December 6, 2006, 8:34pm

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Megan February 23, 2007, 5:23am

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It's inaccurate and confusing, particularly steps 3 and 6.

STEP 3: Turn a sentence around if you are confused about whether a pronoun is the subject or object: "The best swimmer is him." "Him is the best swimmer." (Wrong) "The best swimmer is he." (Correct)

STEP 6: Answer "This is he (or she)" when you identify yourself on the telephone: Caller 1: "Is Lucy Peters there?" Caller 2: "This is she." ("She is this," not "Her is this.")

In following these rules, I'll end up saying absurd things like:

"Who's that in the picture? - That's I."
"Who are the winners? - The winners are we."

To insist that nominative pronouns must follow "be" is to ignore the facts.

John February 23, 2007, 7:03am

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Insisting that nominative pronouns must follow 'be' ignores what "fact"? The "fact" that it sounds absurd to you? It doesn't sound absurd to me, so is it still a "fact"?

Jennifer is right. Just because something sounds funny doesn't make it absurd or snobbish or wrong. When it sounds funny, check out the rules. If you don't like the answer, too bad.

People don't like to find out that something they're accustomed to is technically wrong. So what's the reaction? Declare the rules are wrong and decide that what sounds right to them is correct. So we all now have our own personal grammar rules.....great! Grammatical Relativity.

Jeez - have some humility!

doylesatx May 5, 2007, 7:22pm

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The rule ignores the facts of usage. The fact is that native speakers do not say:

That's I.
The best swimmer is he.
The winners are we.

Some speakers of course do say these, but I'm claiming that if they do, they say them because they've been explicitly taught that these forms are "correct."

So the rule does not describe the facts of usage. So how useful is it?

A better rule might be something like this: The object pronouns (me, him, her etc) are the default.
"Me and my friend are going out."
"Who wants to go? Not me!"
"She is taller than me."

The subject pronouns (I, he, she etc) are only used in a few cases:

- as the single subject before the verb: "I am going out."
Repeat the pronoun for emphasis, and it revert to object form: "Me, I am going out."

- in certain compound constructions after a preposition, for instance "between you and I".

John May 7, 2007, 6:55am

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Hey John, "Me and my friend are going out"????????? You think this is OK???????? or even worse, the norm??????????? You must be in special ed, have grown up in a trailer park, or be just plain ignorant.

Anonymous May 7, 2007, 7:35am

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It is what a lot of speakers say, including well-educated speakers I know. Whether it is acceptable depends on the register and the attitudes of the speaker and listener.

I'm just talking about how native speakers use their language. There's no need to insult me.

John May 7, 2007, 7:44am

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"My friend and I are going out"..

Personally, I think this whole discussion seems ludicrous. You don't like the rules? Deal with it. It is ridiculous to think that just because you have some bad habits, the rules of grammar must be changed to make speech more comfortable for you. I have always heard it said "this is she," and that is the right way of saying it. People who say otherwise are poorly educated or just careless.

Cal May 8, 2007, 4:20pm

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P.S. "Anonymous".. I find your comments about "special ed" and "trailer parks" rather rude and completely out of line. You don't need to stoop to meaningless insults to get your point across.

Cal May 8, 2007, 4:23pm

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Common usage does not equal correct usage.

Jess May 8, 2007, 4:33pm

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What does equal correct usage? Shakespeare used "between you and I" - 200 years before English grammar was taught in school.

We find "take a picture of her and I"
but we never find "take a picture of I"
We find "her and I are going out"
but we never find "her is going out"

Why is that? What is it about 2 pronouns conjoined by "and" that makes them behave differently than a single pronoun? This is the question we should be asking. Insisting that one usage is wrong and the other is right because of some Latin-derived prescriptive rules doesn't help us learn anything interesting about language.

John May 8, 2007, 4:43pm

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This is from Ronald Wardhaugh's "Proper English," which I recommend if you are interested in this at all:

Whatever a grammar of a language is, it is largely impervious to human intervention. That is, the really interesting rules and principles are so basic that we cannot do anything at all about them. What we can do is try to influence some of the minor outcomes, for example, try to insist that people say "I drank" instead of "I drunk" or "It's I" instead of "It's me". Essentialy that is tinkering with matters of no linguistic consequence. To elevate the study of grammar to the task of trying to bring about "correction" in such matters is to trivialize that study. These matters may be of social consequence and often are, but that is a social observation and not a linguistic one, because "I drunk" and "It's me" are linguistically on a par with "I drank" and "It's I". Furthermore, it is an observation that tells us much about social organization and the function of trivia in such organization and nothing about the structure of language.

Anonymous May 8, 2007, 4:44pm

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The easiest rule to follow would be to place your subject first, that is following the pattern-Subject Verb Object. Example, "He is the best runner." and not "The best runner is he."

In any case Cal and Jess are correct in that one must live up to rules and not the other way around. If we don't hold the line then widespread use of "ain't" and "ax" for ask will be our future.

Shawn May 18, 2007, 2:26pm

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I personally waver between trying to be a purist - and to talk 'correct' English - and trying to be a normal everyday human, who is living with and using an evolving thing. If I arrive home, I call out "It's me!". I don't say '"It is I". I am aware that by the 'correct rules' of language - laid down fundamentally by the prissy and over-zealous Victorians - I should say "It is I"; but I am also quite aware that to the modern ear, it sounds silly and frankly wrong. That is what linguistic evolution is all about.

That being said, I will absolutely insist upon using 'I' when I say 'My friend and I are going out'; because I would say 'I am going out'. Conversely, simply because it just doesn't sound right, I will not say "I and my friend are going out."

I am educated, I am (fairly) aware of my language, and so I will try to use it correctly. Fundamentally, I try to use it to express what I mean, and to ensure that my audience will understand what I am saying; without excessive pedantry.

Oh - although 'shall' and 'will' remain a bit of a mystery to me!

Sian May 19, 2007, 11:48pm

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Sian, If you look up "shall" at, there is a somewhat abstruse usage note about "shall" vs. "will". Perhaps it is a little easier to compare "should" vs. "would". At least in some contexts, "shall" has an implied sense of compulsion. I shall do something that is imperative, that I am supposed to do. I will do something that I am surely going to do.

porsche May 20, 2007, 1:38am

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Anonymous's remarks to John may have been overly harsh, but, to tell you the truth, I can't help but appreciate anonymous's frustration. For someone to assert that "me and my friend are going out" is somehow normal or acceptable is just plain absurd. Even the most liberal descriptivist doesn't accept that anything anyone says or hears is grammatically correct, just because it is said or heard.

Furthermore, the claim that "It is what a lot of speakers say, including well-educated speakers I know." is equally absurd and proves nothing. If someone consistently says something that is so egregiously, grammatically incorrect, then, by definition, he or she is not well-educated. Anyone who identifies such a person as well-educated merely betrays their own lack of discrimination. That's probably what sparked anonymous's outburst in the first place.

PS, I would also disagree with some of John's basic facts. It's one thing to discuss whether "this is she" is required, optional, or archaic. It's quite another to suggest that "me and my friend are going out" illustrates the very rule for proper grammar. I'm sorry, but this is NOT how native speakers use their language. To assert otherwise as fact is just incorrect. You do hear it, but not commonly, and never from anyone well-educated, usually from a small child. Certainly, no one I know speaks that way.

chuck EEE May 21, 2007, 7:57am

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"me and my friend are going out" is how many native speakers use their language. Maybe not you, chuck, but many native speakers do say this. And I don't see what's wrong with educated speakers using this in some contexts - it just means they may not be educated in a certain prescriptive rule that is not part of their native language. And by "educated speakers" I mean my friends who have Canadian university degrees.

Note that I never said that "me and my friend are going out" is standard English as defined by say, Merriam-Webster. I don't think it is. But there are many different kinds of English, and standard English is just one kind.

My point is simply that I think it's useful to distinguish between how native speakers use their language, and the opinions of usage commentators. Because that is all these rules about grammatical correctness are - opinions.

John May 21, 2007, 10:29am

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Here's a linguistic thesis on "me and her" vs "she and I" and how conjoined pronouns behave differently than single pronouns

John June 1, 2007, 9:17am

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Scenerio#1: Your name is Jane. You are in a room (crowded with people), and someone asks: "Who is Jane?"

Do you say?
1. "This is she!"
2. "This is her!"
3. "I am Jane." or "I am."


Scenerio#2: Your name is Jane. The phone rings, you pick up, and the caller says: "May I speak with Jane?"

Do you answer?
1. "This is she!"
2. "This is her!"
3. "You're speaking to Jane."

Furthermore, I've never heard callers begin a phone conversation by asking: "Who is Jane?" If they would, then #2 would be correct.

On the same note, callers never say: "If Jane is in the office, then I really need to speak to SHE." If that was correct, then the grammatically correct way to answer would be: "This is SHE."
A more grammatically correct way to say this: "If Jane is in the office, then I really need to speak to HER." Then, the correct way to answer would be: "This is HER." or "This is Jane."

MITRE June 6, 2007, 4:31am

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wow. im teaching english as a second language and this question came up in class today. after reading this entire page i still have no clue what to say to my students on monday. *sigh*

Jen June 7, 2007, 11:53pm

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Hey Jen,

Ok, so your lesson has passed now, but here's what you tell your students: "this is she" is technically correct but "this is her" is often used.


AO June 13, 2007, 7:44pm

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"technically correct"

I don't like that phrase. It implies to me that there is a Manual of English that explains the hard and fast rules of all English for all time, and also that such rules even exist. Also, I wonder about the cognitive dissonance produced by thinking that something is "technically correct" but seldom used.

As I say above, from a descriptive point of view, I'm thinking that the subject-object distinction in pronouns is becoming obsolete. Instead we have a situation with default pronouns (me, him, her etc), which are replaced by marked pronouns (I, he, she etc) in certain situations.

The fact is that this is something that usage writers disagree about. Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage gives an overview of the arguments, then says

"Clearly, both the it is I and It's me patterns are in reputable use and have been for a considerable time. It is I tends to be used in more formal or more stuffy situations; it's me predominates in real and fictional speech and in a more relaxed writing style. Him, her, us, and them my be less common after the verb to be than me is, but they are far from rare and are equally good."

John June 14, 2007, 10:59am

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I understand and appreciate both sides of this discussion, that there are rules that should be respected and adhered to regardless of "common" (i.e. incorrect and widespread) usage, and that some people prefer an incorrect usage to a correct usage that sounds formal, snobby or pedantic due to a ubiquitous lack of proper usage. (I really appreciate Sian's comments; he/she articulated his/her point of view perfectly, which happens to align rather neatly with my own.)

However, * no one * will EVER convince me that "me and her are going" or "me and my friend are xxx" is correct in any way, shape or form! John states that his friends who say this are well-educated. Perhaps they are brilliant in their respective fields...but their English usage in this case is atrocious. I'm not sure where he gets his argument about "native speakers", but I'm with everyone else who rejects his argument regarding this usage. It is simply wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter how you try to slice it.

Jess' comment that "common usage does not equal correct usage" was brilliantly succint and cuts to the heart of the argument.

Regarding another of John's comments, I don't find steps 3 or 6 in that link confusing at all; in fact, I find them quite helpful at times.

I find Mitre's final comments about matching a question's grammar to its answer rather absurd. One has nothing to do with the other. The caller asks to speak TO someone, and the preposition requires a certain part of speech after it. The grammatical construction of the answer is not dependent on the grammatical construction of the question!

All these opinions worth exactly the .00 you paid for them :)


P.S. I'd love to hear about the rules for usage when a written word begins with a vowel that sounds like a consonant. Case in point: in my first paragraph, I said "a ubiquitous" instead of "an ubiquitous". The latter is, I believe, technically correct; however, since most of us actually sound out words in our head as we read, the former sounds "better", or at least, less awkward. (Yes, I recognize the irony inherent in the fact that I chose to utilize the common usage over the correct usage despite railing against such a choice about half a second ago.) Has anyone seen this kind of issue addressed or codified in a rule somewhere? If so, I'd greatly appreciate a link.

Melissa July 12, 2007, 7:28pm

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We use "a" before a consonant sound and "an" before a vowel sound. So "a ubiquitous" is standard, because "ubiquitous" begins with a consonant sound: /y/ as in "you". And we write "an hour" because "hour" begins with a vowel sound.

"me and her are going" is not standard English. OK? OK.

However, it IS how many native speakers speak. Many people don't like it, but that won't stop other people using it. As I said before, it is useful to distinguish between opinions about "correctness" and how the language is actually used.

John July 13, 2007, 2:36am

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It is obvious that the only thing that is "incorrect" is claming that one or the other situations is the "tecnical" truth.

First of all, grammar rules are not written in stone. Chaucer couldn't pass a modern grammar test and neither could Shakespeare. Language evolves based on usage.

In this whole forum, nobody has established an absolute, clear-cut rule. Additionally, nobody has defined their terms, and after doing several internet searches I still haven't gotten a good definition of what a copulative verb, a coordinated pronoun, or a substituted non-coordinated pronoun are. Why would a person use a fancy linguistical term that has no definition? The only answer I can come to is that they are just making it up to sound smart and reduce the possiblity of a retort. (If I'm wrong on this, prove it by providing simple definitions)

There is clearly, even among linguists, a division over whether it is correct to say "This is her" or "This is she" which leads me to suggest that this is a poor construction to use. Therefore, in my opinion, BOTH are wrong. When somebody asks:

"Is Jane there."

The ONLY absolutely correct answer that nobody can complain about is.

"I am Jane."

Furthermore, this kind of conversation is dangerous because people start misapplying the poorly explained rule to other situations. I had a friend of mine who is a high school ESL teacher try to tell me that it´s incorrect to say:

You are smarter than me.

And it should be:

You are smarter than I.

I´ve looked all over to see if there is any truth to this suggestion and the closest thing I found to a treatment of this was in the Raymond Murphy grammar book in which they said you can use EITHER "You are smarter than me." or "You are smarter than I am." but it said nothing about only using "You are smareter than I."

However, this should not be taken as an absolute rule either for there is a precident in the English language where implied words are not stated and the sentence is still gramatically correct.

So, to sum up, if linguists can't agree, then there is no hard and fast rule, OK.

And just to leave you with a little bit of a brain teaser, what about when somebody brings you something and says: "Here you go." How many grammatical rules are broken with that statement? Or is there some loophole "official" rule in the linguistic bible that justifies it?

beninlima July 20, 2007, 6:54am

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Mitre, you are incorrect. In the sentence "If Jane is in the office, then I really need to speak to her," the proper word is "her" because it is the object of a preposition. The objective case word would be "her." In "This is she," "she" is a predicate nominative. The nominative case word is "she."

Ben, the correct sentence is "You are smarter than I," because the understood ending of the sentence is "You are smarter than I am smart." "You are smarter than me am smart" would never make sense.

mj July 23, 2007, 6:56am

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Ben, you seem to have a misunderstanding of what linguists do. Linguists are not in the business of telling people what is "correct" or "incorrect." Rather, linguists describe how the language is used. See the links I gave.

For coordinated pronouns, see the thesis I linked to.


John July 24, 2007, 4:13am

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This is interesting. I was just called up by a company calling me in for a job interview. I answered the call with "this is she". Afterwards i wasn't sure if I answered correctly, so i typed the phrase into google..... Well, considering that from all the posts above, there isn't any general consensus on what's right or wrong, I don't think the person on the other line would think my English was poor, she might just be a little bit confused! A big relief!

shibrette July 30, 2007, 1:10am

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On second thoughts, I think 'this is she' is more grammatically correct.
Consider regular sentences with 'her' or 'she':
1. She is beautiful.
2. Her dress is beautiful.
If we were to insert names, each sentence would respectively be:
1. Sarah is beautiful
2. Sarah's dress is beautiful.
'Sarah' replaced 'She' and Sarah's' replaced 'Her'.
If Sarah were to be asked "May I speak with Sarah?', Her answer could be 'This is Sarah'. If she were to replace her name with she/her, from the sentences above, then her response should be 'This is she'.
I didn't major in English though..... and I realize my analogy wouldn't work with 'I', 'My' or 'Me'.... or some other she/her sentences, for that matter....

Shibrette July 30, 2007, 1:23am

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But if I replace "Sarah" with "she" in any other context, I get ungrammatical English: "May I speak with she?"

John July 30, 2007, 7:17am

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Is it just me (is it just I) or am I the only one who doesn't have this problem?
Maybe it's because it is not often me (it is not often I) who answers the phone. Or perhaps it is because when I do, if someone asks if I am there, I say, "Wait a minute, I'll check."

A Nony Mouse August 3, 2007, 6:46pm

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Look at what I did on related ones. Of course "This is she" is correct.

mathwiz000000009 September 4, 2007, 6:59pm

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Reality Check #1:
This discussion has been going on for a YEAR! Better usage of time people? Simple solution: use something you know to be correct, do not risk sounding like an idiot (because either usage of she/her can have that result).

Reality Check #2:
Language is constantly evolving, from having a lot of vitality to near death (defend Latin all you want, 99% of the world does not really care). Therefore, this conversation will become irrelevant when the Chinese people take over the world and everybody will have to speak Cantonese or Mandarin.

Reality Check #3:
I already spent too much time on this inconsequential topic (compared to the big picture), so this will be my first and last post!

Much Love and Peach for All.

Reality Dr. September 10, 2007, 2:04pm

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John, native English can only go so far. English is, after all, native to England, where the most common response we would have received from the great literary figures while English developed would have been:
"Who are you?"
" 'Tis I, Willy Shakespeare, the Great..."
Clearly, an answer in favor of "it is she", therefore "this is she", not "this is her."
Besides, most natives aren't even native. I belive you're using the term loosely and in reference to Americans. Well, the native americans didn't even speak English. Having said this, maybe we should look for Indian grammar rules, not Latin derivations.
And to those of us that are looking for answers with more research, please remember that Wikipedia is yet another website with postings from mere 'native' speakers.

J Asly September 13, 2007, 7:18am

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J Asly, I'm not sure what you're talking about. I'm talking about native English speakers: people who have English as a native language, whether they're American, Canadian, British, etc. I'm not sure what you're trying to say with Shakespeare. Shakespeare used both "it's me" and "it's I", he mixed up "who" and "whom", he used "between you and I".

Finally, perhaps an intro course in linguistics would help to explain where I'm coming from:

John September 13, 2007, 2:36pm

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John, I, too studied, linguistics, and can appreciate where you are coming from about linguists describing what the norm is, and not prescribing the rules.
I, however, have bones of contention with the approach you've taken. This concept of native speakers and numbers cannot hold when you realise that put together, the greatest number of English speakers resides not with the Northern American countries and England, but in the Asian countries like India and China, where the largest populations of people in the world hold sway. There are at least 250 milllion Chinese nationals who speak English (as of last count in Jan 2007), and the number extrapolates astronomically when you realise the penetration of the English Language across school classroom curricula. Very soon, if we base the ownership of English grammar rules on the mere size and commonality of the language's occurrence, then you will eventually see both India and China prescribing rules for the rest of the world to follow, including America, Canada and England. The learning of English in China, at least, requires the reliance on prescriptive rules, and at a young age of junior school, they are taught these so-called 'dead-rules', or 'snobbish English rules', which is an irony since these prescriptivisms derive themselves from the West. With your argument, phrases like "long-time-no-see (literal chinese translation), and "clever bug" for the English term "spider" are recently coined terms which have penetrated Global English's lexicon, and are perfectly understood by Chinese speakers of English. Now, should this population of Asian English speakers continue to expand at an exponential rate (also thanks to Bejing's hosting of the Olympics), you will soon find the "archaic" rules and Chinese-coined English terms being the "norm", and eventually the descriptive rules.

Food for thought: San Diego-based consultancy Global Language Monitor (GLM) has noted that new Chinglish expressions are being coined daily in China. As these new denominations of linguistic currency circulate online, English's lexical bank grows richer by the day. "Because of China's growing influence, it now has more impact on Global English than native English-speaking countries. That's pretty astonishing," said GLM president Paul JJ Payack. It also found that Chinglish had contributed 5 to 20 percent of the words added to Global English since 1994, more than any other single source.

Your very argument will soon fail you, and 10 years down the line, the "archaic" may get a retro-revival, all thanks to these New Asian English Speakers.

Derek September 13, 2007, 11:57pm

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Derek, I was talking about native English speakers. Most of the English speakers in Asia are not native speakers as far as I know. Otherwise, I don't disagree.

John September 14, 2007, 3:00am

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Here's a thought. John, there's a common thread in many of your posts about descriptivism, the nature of linguistics, etc. Well, how about this? When someone asks if something is correct English, stay out of it! As you have said many times, linguistics isn't concerned with prescriptive "correctness". It is only concerned with observing how some people speak. Knowing that more or fewer people use a particular twist of speech today than a few years ago, however interesting, does not mean that there are no language "rules" in English. The fact that linguistics is not concerned with rules or correctness does NOT mean that rules or correctness do not exist. If anything, your assertions make linguistics mostly irrelevant! It seems at times that you are asserting that anything that anyone says is OK as long as there are many, no, even a few people who say it. Well, I guess it is "OK" for them, but if someone is asking about correct grammar, such comments are not particularly helpful.
Everyone over the age of four learns English by studying it in school according to prescriptive rules. Yes, we don't have a government bureau of English, at least not in the US, but that doesn't mean we don't have a vast system of education much, if not most, of which is dedicated to the prescription of our language. If I may make an analogy, speeding is illegal almost everywhere on the planet. However, most people drive a little over the speed limit, some, a lot. Everybody does it mostly with impunity, but it's still against the law. If someone asked about it, an intelligent and useful answer would be "The rules say that you should drive within the speed limit. If you drive a little faster on the highway, you are unlikely to get a ticket. If you exceed the limit by more than, say, 10 MPH, you stand a good chance of being pulled over. Regardless, if you want to obey the law, you should not speed. While it is unlikely, you can get prosecuted for going even 1 MPH above the speed limit." It is NOT accurate or useful to say "Go ahead. speed if you want to. Everybody does it. Drive as fast as you want." It is also not helpful to say "Go ahead and speed. Everyone does. just be aware that if you drive dangerously faster than the norm, you might get a ticket, but that's OK, you're still a good driver, because there really aren't any rules. Rules are some arbitrary irrelevant thing made up by society. They shouldn't concern you." Linguists may not be concerned with grammar rules, but that doesn't mean that everyone else isn't or shouldn't be.

Abby Normal September 14, 2007, 3:13am

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Speaking a language is such a different activity than driving a car that I don't think your analogy works. We don't learn our native language in the same way we learn to drive a car. We acquire language unconsciously, but we learn to drive consciously. Also, using nonstandard English will not result in death or prosecution.

How do we determine what is correct? I think the only reasonable position is that usage is the final arbiter. Look at the relevant evidence. How can any rules about English usage have no bearing on how English is used by the speakers and writers you want to emulate?

The idea that usage is the final arbiter has a place in discussions about correctness. It is not a new idea; Oldmixon wrote in 1712 that any arbiter besides usage is the "Arbitrary Fancy of a Few, who would impose their own Private Opinions and Practices upon the rest of their Countrymen." It is used by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, which relies on evidence from real writers of English rather than opinions about how some people think English should be used. And they show that a lot of opinions about what is "correct English" don't describe the facts. For instance, "which" is used restrictively by many good writers more often than it is used nonrestrively. Singular "they" has been used for 500 years by the best writers of English.

I'm not saying that "anything goes," I'm saying "look at the relevent evidence." A lot of what we've been taught about "correct grammar" and grammar in general is unhelpful and often wrong. Language does have rules, and they are largely unconscious rules. For instance, no native speaker will normally produce the sentence "It can do easily it." We don't put adverbs between the verb and its object. This is a rule. It is also a rule for many speakers to use accusative pronouns after "be": it's me, it's her. And indeed many good writers use these constructions. Don't use these constructions if you don't want to, but there's no evidence for saying that they are incorrect.

So I am concerned with what is correct. I think a lot of assertions about what is correct are misinformed because they are based on opinions instead of evidence.

Here's an overview of prescriptivism in English:

John September 14, 2007, 4:55am

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John, this is where you will be interested to know that there are many native speakers of English in Asia, because English is by nature of its easy assimilation of foreign language words an international language. It has its roots in its Anglo Saxon origins, but to implicitly claim that people in Asia are not native speakers of English suggests that only those in western Europe, Canada and the rest of Northern America are Native English Speakers.

In fact, you should know that in Singapore, a country in SE Asia, English is its first language.

Also, your assertion that "not anything goes" is on its own a fallacy, because if a sizeable number of people started speaking in poetic language rather than in common prose, your positioning of adverbs and adjectives goes 'awry'.

Like it or not, if you had to teach children the rules of English, I wonder which population of English speakers you can refer to? Because sooner or later, judging from where your part of town is, it's not going to have the majority of speakers of English.

Come to Asia, and hear English as it is taught, not as it is treated by the whims and fancies of those who had made unconscious errors and have decided to casually abandon all they've been taught (depending on which space and time they exist) for the sake of "natural evolution" of language.

Derek September 14, 2007, 11:18pm

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I think the example is clearly wrong in its explanation. There is no "object" in the sentence "This is she." "IS" is a linking verb, therefore there is a subject and a predicate nominative.

My mother summed it up well:

Use "she" b/c it is the predicate nominative case (the implied sentence is, "this person speaking is she").

"This is her speaking" is incorrect too. Because again, you have a linking verb. You can't use an object form with a linking verb; you have to use a P.N.

Drew October 24, 2007, 5:00am

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So which is which? I really felt bad after a phone interview when I said "This is her". Should I?

message_in a bottle January 25, 2008, 2:39am

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I don't expect everyone to understand all the rules of grammar since it's not even taught anymore, but I cannot believe this is an issue. Were you never taught this in Elementary school, or by your parents? "This is she" is antiquated but DEFINITELY correct. I promise you. May I be stricken dead this instant if I am wrong.

And that first comment was not meant to insult educators. I'm an English teacher, and I can tell you, the curriculum does not focus on grammar. None of my students have ever diagrammed a sentence.

sdbolam February 22, 2008, 9:08am

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Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage page 568:

"Clearly, both the it is I and It's me patterns are in reputable use and have been for a considerable time. It is I tends to be used in more formal or more stuffy situations; it's me predominates in real and fictional speech and in a more relaxed writing style. Him, her, us, and them my be less common after the verb to be than me is, but they are far from rare and are equally good."

John Anderson February 25, 2008, 2:23am

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Actually, John, Abby Normal's analogy with speed limit rules is right on target. You failure to see the clarity of the analogy goes directly to her opening suggestion: as you take the stance of a linguist (observer) rather than grammarian (prescriber), then your opinions and viewpoints are irrelevant -- and in fact distracting -- in any discussion of what is CORRECT. So if the query is "which is correct", your response is not germaine.

By the way, I love your user name, Abby!

amazed February 25, 2008, 7:49am

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amazed, could you please explain how using a language is like driving a car?

What about languages with prescriptive manuals? If we keep to this analogy, we must assume that speakers of these languages might be "speeding" whenever they use their language, since there are no written rules for them to follow.

What about speakers of English who lived before the 18th century (which is when prescriptive grammar was invented)? Were Chaucer, Spencer and Shakespeare speeding when they used their language? Would their works have been better if there was a cop telling them what to do?

In my opinion and in the opinion of many other usage commentators, "correct" means "what is used by good writers". In other words, usage is the final arbiter. I don't see how this view is irrelevant to the discussion of correctness. How can the rules have no bearing on how English is used by the writers you want to emulate?

John February 26, 2008, 6:45am

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that should be "What about languages without prescriptive manuals" of course...

John Anderson February 26, 2008, 6:46am

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Just speaking as someone who googled the keywords "this is she correct grammar" and stumbled across this exchange, thank you!

'This is she' sounds better in my head, so it is a relief that many people consider it grammatically correct.

On the other hand, as much as I love to have technically correct language, I always follow the immortal Dana Scully and say,

"It's me!"

I never say,

"It is I."

If it's good enough for Scully, it's good enough for me.

Carmela March 19, 2008, 3:49am

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Sorry to come in at the end -- but could anyone tell me what they think of this angle? You are showing someone a picture of a friend of yours and you say -- this is she and her father on vacation last year. ?? Does this REALLY sound correct to anyone?

c.dickson March 31, 2008, 1:34am

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@ Folie. Yes, that's correct.

You can think of it as:
(pointing to the girl) This is she...
(then pointing to her father) and this is her father.

In fact, "This is her and her father" (as my wife would say it) sounds rather awkward to my ears...unless, of course, you are referring to something that is possessed by both her and her father, as in "This is her and her father's boat." :)


Foie Gras April 13, 2008, 3:44pm

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Let me get something straight: why is everybody disagreeing with John? (There, I just posed a question that is worthy of an entire book. Done.).

I mean, face it. He's right. Why? It's called "idiolect." At some point, someone in this thread said something about how absurd it would be if we all had our own personal grammars. Guess what. Absurd or not, that is the reality. Every individual on earth with the faculty for language creates their own linguistic forms based on an entirely personal set of rules called an idiolect. The fact that these idiolects have a lot in common within a given language is what gets us arguing over what is correct and what isn't.

Not to get too far off topic, the question posted nearly 2 years ago was whether "this is she" or "this is her" is correct. The answers to that question have drawn on analogous forms and in some cases, even used the rules of other languages (Latin) to justify English structures!! Talk about absurd. I think the original question is fascinating and John's corollary to it--the issue of copulative verb dependent pronomial case behavior (wow what a mouthful of nounspeak!)--is equally if not more exciting. The problem is, for nearly 2 years, I think the discussion is not gone in the right direction. Listen to John! He wants to get to the bottom of this! How would we answer these questions? First we'd have to look at concrete examples of usage (from literature, or speech, or both) to identify the formal processes that render one structure or another. But that isn't enough, we also need to ask how and why these things happen. Here is where the philological analysis of English pronouns and copulative verbs comes in. Enter: the bookworms. Then we want to know about what speakers actually think about what they say. Just read the posts here on this thread. We might eventually formulate an hypothesis not only about how case works in English pronouns within the context of copulative phrases, but also about the cultural context for this strange grammatical behavior. This is what linguistic anthropologists do! They bother people about how they talk and then they think about it...A LOT. Great stuff, everyone. A lot of good material here.

AO April 14, 2008, 6:28am

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Thanks AO, for being another voice of reason here.

I find it incredible that in anything other field, scientific enquiry is respected. But when it comes to language, if we look at the evidence - that is, how the language is actually used - we're either ignored or insulted.

John April 17, 2008, 4:31am

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Well, yah, of course we get ignored or insulted! In our corner of the world, language is the yardstick that we use to measure each other's intelligence. When you talk ABOUT language, you risk "threatening" people. Language plays such a fundamental role in structuring the Universe itself (down to the smallest sub-atomic particle) that pointing out its plasticity is, frankly, quite scary. Most people don't realize, for example, that many academic papers have been written in Krio. Not ON Krio. IN Krio. And as for intelligence, you mentioned Pirahã at some point, if I recall correctly. Documentation of this language by Indo-European-speaking anthropologists has come to redefine our understanding of the meaning of "intelligence."

AO April 18, 2008, 12:42pm

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The verb "to be" does take an object. "This is she" is the correct form.

York April 21, 2008, 9:49pm

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Correction: The verb "to be" does not take an object. "This is she" is the correction form.

York April 21, 2008, 9:51pm

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Does the use of "this is her" instead of "this is she" obscure, or create any confusion about, the intended meaning?


Then why does it matter if "her" is used rather than "she"?

JJMBallantyne April 21, 2008, 11:38pm

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"The verb 'to be' does not take an object."

Then "him" in the following example should be "he"?

I would not want to be him

JJMBallantyne April 22, 2008, 6:53am

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Okay, let’s look at the cases that the two sides have made. In favor of “her”:

-Pretty much everyone says “her”.
-“She” sounds funny.
-“To be” takes the objective case in other situations, such as “That’s him over there.”
-The object of a verb takes the objective case, and this gives every indication of being the object, so it takes the objective case.

In favor of “she”:

-Because I said so.

I mean, really, that’s what all the arguments come down to.

>The verb “to be” acts as a linking verb, equating subject and object.
>So this is she and she is this; “she” and “this” are one and the same,
>interchangeable, and to be truly interchangeable they must both play
>the same grammatical role—that of the subject.

So, “to be” is special type of verb, that follows rules completely different from the rule that all the other verbs follow. Why? Because I said so. The idea that because they are interchangeable in FACT, they must be the same GRAMMATICALLY is absurd. According to that logic, every noun should take exactly the same pronoun regardless of its case. And if they are truly interchangeable, why must they take the same CASE, but not the same PERSON? So both “It is I” and “It is me” are wrong, since “it” is third person, and “I” and “me” are first. “I am Sarah” is also incorrect.

>But instead you are replacing the word "I" with "this"
> and "Sarah" with the nominative pronoun, in this case "she."

But it’s the object, so it should take the objective pronoun.

>I am almost certain that the correct phrase is "This is she".
>This is because you can ask, "May I please speak TO her?"
>but in that case, you are using it directly. I like to swap the
>phrase making it "she is this" or "she is who is speaking"
>and it just makes more sense, yes?

But when you swap the phrase, you swap the pronouns. Why on Earth would you think otherwise? For instance, “He hit her”, but “She hit him”. When you change the order, you also change the pronouns. So “she is this” but “this is her”.

>Insisting that nominative pronouns must follow 'be' ignores what "fact"?

Umm… the fact that pronouns in the objective case take the objective case?

>Hey Jen,
>Ok, so your lesson has passed now, but here's what you tell your students:
> "this is she" is technically correct but "this is her" is often used.

How is it “technically” correct? Because someone made up a rule about how “to be” is a special type of verb that follows a completely different rule, even though virtually no one actually follows that rule?

>We use "a" before a consonant sound and "an" before a vowel sound.
>So "a ubiquitous" is standard, because "ubiquitous" begins with a
>consonant sound: /y/ as in "you".
>And we write "an hour" because "hour" begins with a vowel sound.

And people who talk funny write “an historian”.
>Mitre, you are incorrect. In the sentence "If Jane is in the office,
>then I really need to speak to her," the proper word is "her"
>because it is the object of a preposition.

No, it takes the objective case because it’s the object of a VERB. Being the object of a preposition is irrelevant.

>Ben, the correct sentence is "You are smarter than I,"
>because the understood ending of the sentence is
>"You are smarter than I am smart." "You are smarter
>than me am smart" would never make sense.

IF one intends the elliptical meaning, THEN “I” is correct. However, according to the literal meaning of the sentence, “me” is the correct word.

>John, this is where you will be interested to know that
>there are many native speakers of English in Asia,
>because English is by nature of its easy assimilation of
>foreign language words an international language.

Many? How much is “many”? Why do I meet so many Asians who aren’t native speakers, if English is so common?

>May I be stricken dead this instant if I am wrong.
Shouldn’t that be “struck”?

UIP April 24, 2008, 8:49pm

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To those claiming that "it is I" or "this is I" is correct: We say "I AM this," not "I IS this." How do you explain or justify the subject pronoun "I" not agreeing with the verb?

liainsf May 10, 2008, 11:07am

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That's a good question, Lia. How is a 1st person pronoun (I) made to agree with a verb form (is) in the 3rd person -- as in "That's I", which it would be "I is that" in reverse? Anyone?

Donna May 10, 2008, 12:30pm

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"To those claiming that 'it is I' or 'this is I' is correct: We say 'I AM this,' not 'I IS this.' How do you explain or justify the subject pronoun 'I' not agreeing with the verb?"

"That's a good question, Lia. How is a 1st person pronoun (I) made to agree with a verb form (is) in the 3rd person -- as in 'That's I', which it would be 'I is that' in reverse? Anyone?"

This question is a red herring; the answer has nothing to do with the "it is I/it's me" argument.

It's nothing more complicated than this: the verb agrees with its subject. Reverse the phrase and your subject changes from third to first person, so the verb changes too.

If the subject is "that" then "be" must be third person singular ("is"). If the subject is "I" then "be" must be first person singular ("am").

JJMBallantyne May 11, 2008, 1:19am

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THIS IS SHE/HE the end

tilk July 22, 2008, 6:45pm

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Why is this still a topic of discussion? I thought John and AO solved this problem already?! The horse is dead!

Andre August 20, 2008, 2:49am

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I've always said "this is she" on the phone, because my mother taught me to say it this way. Now, so many say "this is her" that "this is she" sounds funny and wrong. Slang expressions and spellings are overwhelming the English language these days anyway. E-mail and the Internet are making changes faster than in the past. The whole point in having language is for communication. Are we going to become better communicators as the world gets smaller? Do the rules from the past still apply, or do the rules need to be adaptable?

KL August 25, 2008, 8:57am

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I say the simplest way to ensure grammatical correctness is to ensure situational correctness. "This is he/him/she/her" is in almost ALL cases situationally incorrect when answering the phone. The correct situational AND therefor grammatical answer should be to answer the question you are asked. Your answer should almost always be "yes". If someone asks if Jane is there and you reply with "this is she/her", you have not answered the question directly and honestly. "Is Jane there?" ... "Yes" or "She is". "May I speak to Jane?" ... "Yes, you may" or even... "You are". If you are a person who absolutely MUST quantify statements, then I suppose "This is Jane" would be most situationally and gramatically correct. I may be a smart alec, but my grammar is correct.

umop apisdn September 1, 2008, 2:21pm

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Umop, you are a smart alec, but that doesn't make your grammar any better. No one is obligated to answer a question exactly as phrased. We are not robots. Nor do social obligations require us in any way to answer so literally. When someone answers "Do you know what time it is?" with simply "yes", at best, they are guilty of a poor attempt at humor, and at worst, are rude, obnoxious and dull-witted. Their answer is not contextually or situationally correct in any way. Their response bears no relationship to grammar, good or bad, and is irrelevant.

Anonymous September 1, 2008, 4:51pm

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When someone asks "May I speak with Sam?", you may reply:

"Yes, this is Sam."

Alternatively, if we are to replace Sarah with a pronoun, then you may say:

"Yes, this is him."

Similarly, when the caller is referring to a third person (say, in a conference) by the question "Is that Sam?", then a response would likely be:

"Yes, it's him."

In parallel, the feminine follows the same pattern:

May I speak with Sarah?
Yes, this is her.

"Her" sounds more appropriate than "she" given these settings.

Anonymous September 1, 2008, 8:29pm

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Thank you. I am enlightened. Please further inform me. Where was my grammar incorrect when responding literally to a question? As for social obligations. I don't recall mentioning them. Unless you are assuming the social obligation of telling someone exactly to whom it is that they are speaking. A speech pattern I believe I was rather obviously against. But, again, thanks.

umop apisdn September 2, 2008, 2:28pm

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Thank you, all!! I prefer the sound of, "this is she", but I don't cringe when I hear, "this is her", anymore. I will start saying, "speaking", however.

Ines September 3, 2008, 8:41am

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After reading this tirade, I am convinced that in the future I will answer the question, "May I speak with Jana?", with this response: "Speaking."

Jana Floyd September 24, 2008, 8:30am

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Sorry if I ask something wrong. I am Russian so English is foreign for me.
Suppose someone asks me what my brother looks like. I show him photo. What should I say in this case: "this is he (i.e. my brother)" or "this is him"?

xelibri October 4, 2008, 3:51am

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I agree Jana.

missy October 29, 2008, 6:04pm

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<Phone rings>
Caller: "Hello, is Wendy there?"
Wendy: "This is she."
Caller: "I think you mean, this is her?"

wndylayn November 3, 2008, 2:16pm

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NUTS to static rules of English. Long ago did they cease to keep pace with rapidly evolving usage such as our burgeoning mother tongue affords; yea, do not some posts in this very thread which strive to follow said laws provoke a disgust most visceral among the unpretentious? Further, why should it be so that those 'elite' posters at whom the above broadside was leveled bristle at so-called non-standard patternage, yet feel quite at ease violating, say, the rule of indentation governing the start of a paragraph? Hypocrisy, cry I! Stilted, atavistic, inflexible hypocrisy!

I'm with John, if I discern his stance correctly. "This is she" may be the construction of choice as per a consensus of style manuals, but to follow, for example, "May I speak to her?" with "This IS she" smacks more of haughtiness and rudeness than it be an indication of an mind well educated. And while some may think "Me and him are friends" an affront to erudite sensibilities, sure as Hell I ain't deigning to correct a body what says it.

the bottom line November 5, 2008, 7:16am

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you are wrong, in the case of answering the phone, "this is she" is correct.

and when answering the door and telling someone who it is you would say "It is they."

Grammar MOTHER November 15, 2008, 2:57am

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update your sight for God's sake!

Grammar daughter November 15, 2008, 2:58am

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And don't forget, if you and your spouse answer the door, and the caller says "are you Mr and Mrs Smith?" you must answer "This is we."

David November 15, 2008, 4:29am

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David, should it be "they are we"?

Anonymous November 16, 2008, 1:23pm

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I've seen the light: always answer the query "May I speak to X?" with "This is s/he." Similarly, when you knock on a door and someone inside asks, "Who is it?" you should say, "It is I." That way, everyone will know right up front that you have a twig in your mudhole about speaking 18th Century English and they can adjust their attitudes accordingly.

the bottom line November 16, 2008, 7:21pm

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I think all this is very interesting. I was taught in an English Grammar Theory course that languages, and the rules governing them, are organic. They are not static and evolve over time. Factors that influence changes almost always involve audience and usage. Although I understand the usefulness of prescriptive rules, I do find it trite to hover and debate over an issue like this. Could it be that usage pattern is eroding formal structure. Is this a bad thing?

I tend to get nervous when language is used as a tool for social demarcation - much like a previous comment which equated improper usage with mental deficiency or low social status. I don't believe communication is relegated to the wealthy - and isn't that the purpose of language? To communicate?

I say, "this is her," because it is natural to my tongue. Never once did the person on the other end misunderstand me. If they noticed and assumed I was from a trailer park or without mental function, they never let on. Answering a phone is not taking the SAT. Plus when I say "this is she," I feel 50 years older.

Krystal January 25, 2009, 3:30pm

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I agree with Krystal (and half of the posts) that "This is her" is more natural to the tongue, and that I feel 18th century by saying "This is she." However, I was corrected on this by a caller just the other day.

As a side note, I feel that it is inappropriate to be correcting people's spoken grammar in a professional setting, you are not my 3rd grade teacher. If you want to think I'm an idiot, that is okay. Although, with the amount of debate on the subject, I don't think anyone has the right to make that strict judgement call, its not like I said "This be her".

But, alas, in the future I think I will just avoid the controversy in general.

Recently Corrected January 28, 2009, 8:39am

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Yes     No