Punctuality Rules!

MM: Just Between You and Me, er, I, er, Us….

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Gillian left a comment on yesterday’s post asking for help knowing when to use the nominative case in a sentence. If the jargon is already making you say, “What?” it’s knowing the difference between saying, “You and I” and “You and me.” In fact, the sentence that caught her eye yesterday was “And then there’s you and I,” which is grammatically correct, even if it sounds odd to modern ears.

The nominative case for a pronoun is the version you use when it’s the subject of a sentence or clause: I, you, he, she, we, they, it, and who.

  • He stole my bike!
  • We went to the city to look at the Christmas tree.
  • They called and said they would be late.
  • Who do you think you are?

Nominative case is also used for the “predicative nominative” when it comes after a linking verb . . . that is, when it’s the predicate of a sentence and the verb is an inactive one like “to be”.

  • It is I, here to save you!
  • That was he on the phone.
  • What I want to know is who told you?

This is the tricky one for modern ears. If you knock on a door and somebody asks who’s there, would you ever answer, “It is I.” No, of course not, because you’d feel ridiculous, exactly because that’s what you expect the brave Prince rescuing the damsel in distress to say as he brandishes his sword. The phrase “It is I” simply isn’t meant for normal folks like you and me. You’d say “It’s me,” just like any grammatically-ignorant slob.

If someone asks for you on the phone would you say “This is she (or he)?” Probably not. I had a roommate in college whose mother had raised her to have an absolute horror of people saying, “This is her,” and she was the only person I’ve ever known to say, “This is she.” She got me out of the habit of the incorrect response, but I always felt too melodramatic using the correct version and so now just say, “Speaking.” (It’s a cop-out, I know, but grammatically-ignorant people often think you’re making fun of them when you use correct English, don’t ask me why.) Still, there’s no question that she was right, and I’m willing to bet she’s raised her two daughters to respond correctly on the phone.

Naturally, if you’re talking about more than one person, you still need to use the proper case for the pronouns. “It is Harry and I,” not “It is Harry and me.” Or, “Mom and I went to the show,” never “Mom and me went to the show.” When in doubt, mentally drop the person’s name and just use the pronoun to give your inner ear a cleaner, fair shot at hearing whether it’s correct. “I went to the show,” is obviously correct while “Me went to the show” is not.

Now, the objective case that uses the other pronouns of me, him, her, and so on? That’s coming up next week!

If you’d like more information on the Nominative case, you can look here.

6 thoughts on “MM: Just Between You and Me, er, I, er, Us….

  1. SmallWorld

    Funny. I always answer the phone with, “This is she.” Just last week my daughter (age 10) asked me why I do that. And I thought…hmmmm. How do I explain that one? I even thought for a moment, “I should pose this question to Punctuality Rules!” So I explained to her that if I finished off the sentence, I would say, “This is she speaking,” or “She is speaking,” not “This is her speaking” or “Her is speaking.” That seemed to satisfy her. For now.

  2. ktel60

    Good one, Deb. Caller ID has removed much of the trauma from answering the phone, but I will not identify myself to an unidentified caller. In the unlikely event that someone calls and says (e.g.) “This is Mary Psmith, may I speak with (fill in my name)?”, I will respond with “Speaking”, or, if I have a drop taken “Yer talkin’ to ‘im”. Should the caller be (as is much more often the case) an insolent boor who does not identify himself, the person who has most likely interrupted my dinner will receive the icy but polite “May I say who is calling?” Worst case scenario is when my name is mispronounced. That unfortunate gets a few well-chosen but less than polite suggestions, and then a dial tone. Sorry about the vitriol, but I’ve just given up on trying to reach the soi-disant “customer service” department of my cell provider after two and one-half hours on hold.

    JC

    PS – How fare the shingles? Better, I hope.

  3. verbatim

    I, too, am a “This is she.” I’m no longer the obnoxious pedant that I once was, but I do feel that the more we use proper grammar, the likelier it is that others will adopt it.

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