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"?
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.
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".
"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.
Either the subjective (she) or objective (her) would be ok, I think. Personally I'm inclined to answer "This is he".
protected by RegDwigнt♦ Jun 21 '12 at 21:02
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