It is I

When I pick up a ringing phone and hear the caller ask to speak with Pam Nelson, I say, “This is she.” Am I being stuffy and formal? Maybe I am, but I prefer this form. It is the way my mother taught me to answer. Is it wrong for someone else to answer the same sort of question with “This is her” or “this is me”? Apparently, it is not considered wrong in today’s informal speech to use the objective case of the pronoun in these instances. (But it makes my skin crawl, to tell the truth, to hear “This is her.”)

Here is a reminder about grammatical terms: The nominative case of personal pronouns is used for subjects of verbs or subject complements. A subject complement is a noun, pronoun or adjective that follows a linking verb and tells something about the subject of the sentence. The nominative (also referred to as the subjective) case pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we and they. The objective case pronouns are used for objects of verbs or of prepositions. The objective case pronouns are me, you, him, her, us, them.

A reader pointed out this sentence from a recent News & Observer column, “It wasn’t Mick Jagger — it was you and I.” The reader thought the clause should have been “it was you and me.” He has some support for his view. Patricia T. O’Conner in “Woe is I” writes that the practice of using the nominative case of the pronoun following a form of the verb “to be” is all but extinct. She says that all but the fussiest grammarians would accept “it was you and me.” The American Heritage Book of English Usage online agrees that “It is me” sounds better and more natural than “It is I.” Check the heading personal pronouns after forms of be for the argument.

On the other hand, William A. Sabin in “The Gregg Reference Manual” still recommends using the nominative case. Diana Hacker in “Rules for Writers” says to use the nominative case as a subject complement: It was you and I, not it was you and me. In “The Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference,” the writers say, “Subjective pronouns are used … as predicate pronouns (complements of linking verbs) in semiformal and formal contexts. It was I on the phone. … The winners are he and I. … It was they who objected to the proposal.

I think the clause “it was you and I” is correct for the newspaper, which I contend is still a more formal context than regular conversation. If you are talking to your pal and say, “It’s just you and me, buddy,” I will not object to your grammar. (I wouldn’t anyway. That would be rude, and courtesy is much more important than correct grammar. My mother taught me that, too.)

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.