Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Upon answering the telephone, the person calling asks if Joan is available. If Joan is the person who answered the phone, should she say "This is her" or "This is she"?

share|improve this question
12  
Be a literalist and answer "Yes"... then enjoy the delicious awkward silence. –  Chris Dwyer Oct 14 '10 at 17:43
3  
Joan would say "Yes, speaking." –  ShreevatsaR Oct 15 '10 at 9:26
    
How about "It is I"? :) –  Benjol Oct 15 '10 at 11:18
2  
"This is [name]" is my response. Either way you say this is she or this is her sounds off/odd to me so i don't even bother. –  Tim Oct 17 '10 at 0:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Traditional grammarians prefer the nominative ("she") for the complement of the verb "to be". Most usage in my experience prefers the accusative ("her") and regards the verb as having a direct object rather than a complement.

I suspect the traditional grammarians, as they often did, have misapplied a rule of Latin grammar. In Latin, "esse" takes a complement in the nominative case, but Latin declines the verb strongly enough that it doesn't bother with a pronoun as the subject of a verb unless needed for emphasis. "It is she" in Latin would be "illa id est", which looks far more natural than the English.

Note that it's "c'est lui" in French, so there isn't a general rule for a complement of "to be" being in the nominative.

Explanation:

A normal (transitive) verb, like say "have" has a direct object, which is in the accusative case. So, for example, "I have her" uses "her" as a direct object, and "her" is in the accusative case, where "she" is in the nominative case.

In Latin, the verb "esse" ("to be") is special; it doesn't have a direct object in the accusative case, it has a complement in the nominative case. English grammarians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries adopted a number of rules of Latin grammar into English; this was one of them. In Latin, "it is she" and "she is it" are both the same thing "id illa est" or "illa id est" can both be translated either way - the point being that the "is" ("est") just equates to things to each other - it's like in maths you can have x=y or y=x and they both mean the same thing.

English, though, takes word-order very seriously, and a pronoun after a verb is very strongly marked as being in the accusative case and you don't get the benefit that you get in Latin from the exception - there's still one before the verb and one after; you don't get to make clear that it's commutative. So you have a special-case for a verb, which you get no useful benefit from. It's hardly surprising that most English speakers have reverted to "it is her" rather than "it is she".

share|improve this answer
    
The explanation does help a lot. I'm still not sure where you stand as far as your opinion goes though. It sounds like you prefer "it is she" since it is more correct in your eyes but you realize that "it is her" is valid because of the differences in English vs Latin. Do I understand correctly? –  Joe Philllips Oct 16 '10 at 17:22
5  
I think "it is her" is probably better English; there's a whole set of prescriptive grammar that comes from misapplied analogies from Latin, and this is definitely one of them. –  Richard Gadsden Oct 16 '10 at 19:38
1  
For "it is she" pleads that this is probably closer to historical usage, when the ancestor of modern English still had cases, which were most probably applied as in "it is she". // Note that "illa id est" is probably not the way Romans would write it; they'd rather write simply "illa est". This "filler-it" is not used in Latin the same way as in English. –  Cerberus Jan 6 '11 at 5:00
    
this was so wordy and long... –  Felipe Alvarez Jun 12 '13 at 10:39
    
..you can have x=y or y=x and they both mean the same thing.. As a student of Mathematics, I would like clarify on that. They are not the same thing but they do imply an equality between x and y. The fact that they are not the same is even more pronounced in computer science where even the equality is not observed, "x = y" would mean that you're assigning the value of y to x. After assignment, the variables become independent of each other. –  Nick Dec 27 '13 at 10:13

"This is she" is short for "This is she who is speaking", and so I believe it is more formal.

"This is her" probably isn't technically correct, but it is used enough to be fine.

share|improve this answer
4  
Or simply "Speaking", which is also short for "This is she/he who is speaking" –  b.roth Oct 14 '10 at 15:37
    
@Bruno Good point. I've always found that response somewhat brusque... like I'm a bother to the person or something. –  Chris Dwyer Oct 14 '10 at 15:40
1  
Actually, adding the relative clause ("who is speaking") tells you nothing about the case of its antecedent ("her/she"), because that is not in the clause and so is not governed by it. The question is solely about whether you accept "this is me/him/her" or insist on "this is I/he/she". I find the latter to be stilted in most circumstances, but I know a number of Americans use it when answering the phone. (Neither "this is he" nor "this is him" is common in that context in the UK, though "that's me" is not uncommon). –  Colin Fine Oct 14 '10 at 16:57
2  
I usually go with "I certainly am" or some such. –  Jon Purdy Oct 14 '10 at 17:28
    
I thought the hidden relative clause to this response would be "whom you are asking for", rather than "who is speaking"... Just as a point of interest. Discuss. –  Karl May 15 '11 at 1:40

Either the subjective (she) or objective (her) would be ok, I think. Personally I'm inclined to answer "This is he".

share|improve this answer

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 21 '12 at 21:02

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.