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When telling a story about myself from the past, I have found myself in an internal debate over whether the correct way to segue into the present is:

That was me twelve years ago.

Or:

That was I twelve years ago.

My instincts tell me the first is correct (object pronoun after a verb and it sounds better to my ears). But, I'm not sure if pronouns after linking verbs should be object pronouns. Which is correct?

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marked as duplicate by tchrist, Brian Hooper, Roaring Fish, choster, Rory Alsop Dec 27 '13 at 11:28

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PhpYourCoder, I think that if we are talking about twelve years ago than both are correct, but for an older age I prefer the former. –  Elberich Schneider Dec 27 '13 at 0:12
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Trust your instincts. :) -- Can you imagine anyone saying stuff like: "That could have been I twelve years ago", "That would have been I if I had gotten married at eighteen". –  F.E. Dec 27 '13 at 0:14
    
    
This may go the way of the WHO/WHOM distinction...and I think the rule that "if it don't sound right,it ain't right" should apply. Imagine knocking on a door and responding to "Who is it?" with "I". –  Bill S. Jan 7 at 19:54
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4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Professor Geoffrey Pullum has this to say:

Myth: Expressions like "It was me" and "She was taller than him" are incorrect; the correct forms are "It was I" and "She was taller than he."

Pullum responds: The forms with nominative pronouns sound ridiculously stuffy today. In present-day English, the copular verb takes accusative pronoun complements and so does "than." My advice would be this: If someone knocks at your door, and you say "Who's there?" and what you hear in response is "It is I," don't let them in. It's no one you want to know.

"People have been living in fear of grammar rules that don't exist," said Pullum, who wrote The Cambridge Grammar with Rodney Huddleston of the University of Queensland, Australia. "We're going into the 21st century carrying grammar books from the 20th century that haven't shaken off grammar myths from the 19th century," said Pullum.

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+1, to counter the silly -1 someone else did. It's good to see someone willing to continually write posts to counteract the silly pedant "rules" that are blindly accepted by students. –  F.E. Dec 27 '13 at 0:09
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@F.E. Indeed. Here for your delectation, degustation, and deliberation is — perhaps — an even better rebuttal against all the prissy peevers than Pullam’s. It’s at least more entertaining. –  tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 1:49
    
"if what you hear in response is "It is I," don't let them in." made me chuckle. –  Omega Dec 27 '13 at 10:38
    
@Omega: Yes, Geoffrey Pullum is an articulate, humorous and sensible (and thus very quotable) linguist. Even if he has been seen associating with 'intransitive prepositions'. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '13 at 10:59
    
+1 for citing a reputable source. I appreciate the insight! –  PhpMyCoder Dec 27 '13 at 19:43
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My inclination is to say they're both correct since in either case your intended meaning is unambiguous. My ultra-descriptivist streak aside, however, I would think that the second is prescriptively more "correct," since you're using your first person pronoun as a predicate nominative.

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Hello, Steely Dan, and welcome to EL&U! I'm especially happy to be freed from the dubious distinction of being the only person here who uses the predicative nominative. It's so obvious, right? Welcome again. :-) (oh, and +1 for you, for being correct.) –  medica Dec 27 '13 at 0:30
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Predicate nominatives existed in Latin, where there was an actual nominative case to mark predicate nouns. But there is no noun case in English; thus predicate nouns have no case. (I is of course not a noun.) –  John Lawler Dec 27 '13 at 0:34
    
I am not a linguist, but to say English nouns have no case is just bizarre to me. Doesn't the object of a preposition use the accusative case? The direct object? Isn't the possessive case a fancy way of saying the genitive case? The nominative, the vocative... if they do not exist, why are they so helpful, and why do they continue to appear in English grammar sites/books? –  medica Dec 27 '13 at 1:47
    
@Susan: there is no noun case in English (regular nouns have a single case often called "common"), but there is limited case for pronouns: subject, object, possessive. Not even all pronouns show a distinction between subject and object. The non-personal pronouns show no case, and among the personal pronouns "it" and "you" show no subject-object distinction. So that leaves only a handful of pronouns with any subject-object distinction, and in all situations, it's entirely redundant, which explains why people started confusing the forms. Case is dead in English. –  siride Dec 27 '13 at 2:42
    
Is it dead, or are the case markers just zero? –  Steely Dan Dec 27 '13 at 3:45
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The traditional grammar rule states when a pronoun follows a linking verb, such as "was", the pronoun should be in the subject case. It’s also called the “nominative.” That means it is correct to say “that was I”.

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I don't think it matters. The main difference, in my opinion, is formality.

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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Dec 27 '13 at 13:53
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the problem is, i can't can't comment... –  ws04 Dec 27 '13 at 15:06
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