It’s Me vs It is I
Reader Ali Abuzar wants us to:
elaborate the difference and usage of
1.It is me.
2.It is I.
3.This is me.
4.This is I.
5.This is Mr. XYZ.
Items 1. and 2: It is me. It is I.
Back in the 18th century, when scholars were fiercely debating English grammar in an effort to “ascertain” and “fix” it, one of the proposed rules relating to pronouns was that
a pronoun in the nominative case (what we now call a “subject pronoun”) must follow a form of to be:
It is I.
It is we.
It is they.
This rule is based on a rule that exists in Latin.
The existence of this rule in any language, however, does not prevent most English speakers from saying It’s me.
When someone phones me and says
Is Maeve Maddox there?”
my response is always “This is she.” That’s the way my momma brought me up to answer the phone. She also taught me to say “To whom do you wish to speak?”
However, in face to face conversation, I’m much more likely to say It’s me.
It’s me is idiomatic English. It is I is not.
That’s not to say that the usage of to be followed by a nominative pronoun is either dead or deserves to be. It’s just not used by all speakers on all occasions.
There’s a familiar hymn whose chorus contains the line
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?”
Writers of fiction often use the differing forms as character tags.
Items 3. and 4: This is me. This is I.
The only context for “This is me” that I can think of (except maybe in answering the telephone) would be in describing photos to another person:
This is me the summer after I graduated.
This is me when I joined the Marines.
This is I would sound strange in this context.
Item 5: This is Mr. XYZ.
This is the normal construction for such a statement. Ex. This is the author of my favorite novel. This is Mr. Biceps, my gym teacher.
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18 Responses to “It’s Me vs It is I”
This rule existed not only in Latin, but also in OE, German, Icelandic, Gothic, Slavic languages, Semitic languages, and pretty much all IE languages.
I use my German “Das bin ich” and translate it to English
“That is I”
@Darryl…”All to do with subjective (I) and nominative (me).”
Actually, Darryl, “Subjective” and “Nominative” represent the same “sense” or “usage” in a sentence (i.e., Who is the “subject” of the sentence, specifically “The Doer”), while “Objective” represents “to whom the action of the sentence occurs”.
Another clarification (@Maeve)…”The only time it’s a toss up between I and me is when the pronoun completes a form of the verb TO BE.”
I assert that anytime a pronoun is on either side of any form of the verb “to be” (e.g., is, am, are, was, were, et cetera) that the correct pronoun to use is the subjective/nominative form (i.e., I, he, she, we, they).
The easiest way to remember this “special case” for conjugations of “to be” is to use an algebraic explanation: Think of “is/are as an “=” sign. Algebraically, “If a+b = c, then c = a+b.”
It is not a stretch to accept that these examples are grammatically valid: “I am here,” and “Here am I.” No one would think to use “me” instead of “I” in either case. But in response to the question, “Who is it?” we often hear: “It’s me.” As in the previous examples, if we reversed the position of the pronoun in the sentence, “It is me,” then reversing the position of the pronoun should be just as correct: “Me is it.” If the reversal of the position of the objective pronoun, “me”, is incorrect in a sentence involving use of “to be”, then try using the the subjective/nominative pronoun, “I”: “It is I.” and “I am it.”
The above examples illustrate that pronouns surrounding conjugations of “to be” are a special case of equality that require subjective/nominative pronouns.
Thanks for that anecdote. As a fellow grammar vigilante, I can relate.
To me, a family that passionately dissects its minister’s grammar rather than discuss his sermon is humorous, but also inspiring. Whatever the point of the sermon, familial bonding (however irreverent) is always a triumph — and a trump.
It amazes–and saddens–me that so many people use pronouns incorrectly. Jeepers, was anyone paying attention in elementary school?
My current pet peeve is hearing adults using “Me and so and so” and “Him and whoosy” and “Her and whatsis.” I would love to correct them, but I keep my mouth shut…we all seem to be quite sensitive when someone corrects our grammar.
Charity hit the nail on the head when she suggested taking “so and so” out of the sentence to figure out the correct pronoun to use. (My mom taught me that when I was learning grammar in grade school.) It also works with “him,” “her,” “she,” and for “we” and “us.”
When I was a kid, my family attended church every Sunday. After the minister started a sentence in his sermon with “Us Christians” one morning, we discussed the correct usage of “we” and “us” all the way home. Although if the minister knew the trick to drop the word “Christians” from the sentence when debating the use of “us” or “we,” I’ll bet he would have recognized his error.
I’m positive that my family missed the point of the sermon, but I’m glad that my parents were sticklers about grammar!
Charity, your suggestion (to take out the “so and so and” part of the sentence to determine the correct pronoun to use) is one I learned long ago from teachers in elementary school, and passed along to my students when I taught. It is, indeed, the easiest and quickest way to figure it out.
It is amusing to note that, often, ministers–many of whom have studied several languages (including Latin & Greek, which require application of grammar)–use “I” when they should use “me.” My theory is that they believe saying “Jesus died for you and I” sounds somehow more lofty and educated than “Jesus died for you and me.” I think it shows up especially when the phrase is the object of a preposition (as opposed to the direct object of the verb).
If you’re ever in doubt, just leave the “so and so” part out and you’ll know!
“The tickets were given to I,” is obviously incorrect. No one would say that! Since you’d say that they “were given to me,” you would also say that they “were given to Susan and me.”
Similarly, “Me received tickets to the concert” is absurd. Since you would say “I received,” you would also say “Susan and I received…”.
I think that’s the most logical way to remember which to use!
Thank you for the further clarification. Now it’s perfectly clear! I think that proofreader may have been right. There were very few things that she was wrong about… 🙂
I appreciate it.
CC, Your proofreader may well have been correct depending on where the “so-and-so and (I,me)” occurs in the sentence.
The tickets were given to Susan and me. Correct.
Susan and I received tickets to the concert. Correct.
All to do with subjective (I) and nominative (me).
Thanks for the explanation, Maeve.
I’ve always thought it was “So-and-so and I…” but my dad insists it’s “So-and-so and me,” which drives me crazy!
I also remember a proofreader I worked with a few years ago who corrected me on using “I” instead of “me” in this case–incorrectly so, it seems. 🙂
If the pronoun is a subject, no question but that the nominative is called for.
So and so and I met on the train.
If the pronoun is an object, the object form is called for.
When’s the last time you saw so and so and me?
The only time it’s a toss up between I and me is when the pronoun completes a form of the verb TO BE.
I checked the words to the hymn on a couple of sites and the line does seem to be in the form of a question.
Here’s one, music and all:
I identify myself when I answer the phone: “Hello, this is Deborah.”
Great topic! Forgive me if this is obvious, but what about, “So-and-so and I” vs. “So-and-so and me”? Does the nominative case still apply here, too?
I also would avoid the pompous-sounding, albeit correct, “It is I” by saying “Speaking,” altho I’ve been known to say “This is she.” (My mom was an English teacher. Her legacy lives on!) However, anyone calling my number and asking to speak to Sherry Roth is probably nobody I know or care to speak to anyway (e.g. a solicitor of some sort), so it’s better to say, “Who wants to know?” or better yet, “She ain’t here.”
Peter beat me to it… I was going to say that when people ask for me on the phone, I usually say, “Speaking.”
Love the second anecdote, Peter! 😀
I think this is one of those situations where both forms (It is I and It is me) are used so much that it almost doesn’t matter which one is right. People are going to use the one they prefer anyway.
I love how poetic and formal “It is I” sounds but in everyday speech I just say, “It’s me.”
[i]There’s a familiar hymn whose chorus contains the line
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” [/i]
Unless my memory has done a bunk (which it may well have done), I’m pretty sure the hymn is more along the lines of ‘Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord.”
Just to let you know. 🙂
When someone phones me and says
Is Maeve Maddox there?”
my response is always “This is she.”
I’d just say “speaking”, and avoid the problem…though not, of course, if someone asks for Maeve Maddox 🙂
She also taught me to say “To whom do you wish to speak?”
I remember hearing once about somebody who, receiving a phone call, asked that question, to which the other party responded “did you just say ‘whom’? Sorry; I must have the wrong number” and hung up 🙂