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.