When Do I Use “I” Instead of “Me?”

One of the most basic yet confusing rules of English grammar is the choice between “me” and “I”.

It’s one of those things that baffle many native English speakers let alone non-native English speakers.

So when someone asks you on the phone, “Is that you?”, how would you answer?

Well, to understand this better, let’s dive into the dynamics of English grammar.

There are a couple of things you should know upfront to better understand the rules and practice of English grammar.

Linking Verbs: Also called non-active verbs, linking verbs don’t describe an action. They simply describe a state of being. Some of the examples of linking verbs are “Am, Is, Are, Were”.

Pronouns: Pronouns are words that substitutes nouns or noun phrases. For example, we say “He/She is a great person” instead of “Bob/Mary is a great person” when we mention a person repeatedly in our speech.

Subject Case: Subject Case is the word that defines an object or a person. For example, It/This/I/They/We/He/She are subject cases in a sentence.

Object Case: Object Case is the word that occurs after a linking verb and often completes a sentence. For example, “She’s a girl” and “I’m Bob” where Girl and Bob are object cases.

As per traditional grammar rules, when a pronoun follows a linking verb, it should be in the subject case. For example:

  • It was I (not me) who started the fight. (where “I” remains unchanged)
  • It’s he (not him) who told me to be careful. (where “he” remains unchanged)
  • It’s they (not them) who took responsibility for the accident. (where “they” remains unchanged)
  • It’s we (not us) who care about you. (where “we” remains unchanged)

Nominative Case: When a noun/pronoun is used as a subject, it’s called Nominative Case. For example, Bob/He ate a hamburger. (Bob/He = Nominative Case)

Accusative Case: When a noun/pronoun is used as an object, it’s called Accusative Case. For example, Mary/She made our dinner. (Dinner = Accusative Case)

We use the nominative case while answering simple questions. For example:

Question: Who is there?
Answer: I’m here. (‘I‘ is a nominative case)

However, when the answer involves a personal pronoun (e.g. she/he/they/we), we tend to use the accusative case even though it’s not correct in formal grammar. For example:

Question: Who is it?
Answer: It’s me. (accusative case) | It’s I. (nominative case)

Predicate Nominative: The predicate nominative is a noun or pronoun that’s on the object end of a linking verb. We use predicate nominatives all the time. For example:

  • The lake was a frozen pool. (frozen pool = predicate nominative)
  • He’s Bob. (Bob = predicate nominative)

Most predicate nominatives are identical in their subject and object cases. However, many people get confused when predicate nominative involves personal pronouns because those have very different subject and object cases. For example, I and He are subject cases whereas ‘Me‘ and ‘Him‘ are object cases.

The rules of grammar say the predicate nominative should use the subject case even though it’s in the object position.

What does this mean?

This essentially means I (a personal pronoun) must remain I even when it takes the object position in a sentence. For example:

  • I am Bob ( where I = Personal Pronoun in Subject Case | Bob = Predicate Nominative in Object Case)
  • It is I (where It = Singular Pronoun in Subject Case | I = Predicate Nominative in Object Case)

Therefore, as per the strict rules of grammar, you should say, “It’s I,” rather than “It’s me,.”

Considering the strict grammar rules, you should also say the following things:

  • It’s we. (instead of It’s us)
  • It’s he. (instead of It’s him)
  • It’s she. (instead of It’s her)
  • It’s they. (instead of It’s them)

However, you’re not supposed to follow these rules in your everyday communications. In fact, old grammar rules were based on Latin grammar rather than English grammar.

Therefore, it’s more appropriate to use Me/He/She/We/They in your natural communications. Indeed, it has become the norm in the English language.

The Verdict

If you’re writing formal dialogue or in a formal setting, use “It’s I.”

However, you can (and it’s more appropriate to) use “It’s me.” in your everyday communications.

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