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In predicate nominatives, I was taught that you use the subject pronoun on either side. In other words. All of these sentences therefore sound right:

I am it. It is I.
You are it. It is you.
We are it. It is we.
He is it. It is he.
They are it. It is they.

Why does "he" get the same form of "to be" both ways, but everything else gets a different form of be depending on the situation? Or are half of my sentences ungrammatical?

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closed as not a real question by KitFox, Matt Эллен, RegDwigнt Mar 29 '12 at 14:48

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2  
"He" and "it" are both third person singular. The others are not. –  KitFox Mar 29 '12 at 14:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

All your examples are grammatically correct, but they don't mean quite the same thing."X is it" is usually used to mean "X is the selected one" or "X is the only available choice" in a fairly emphatic way.

Like, "Who is stuck with cleaning the toilet today?" "You are it." You could also say "It is you", but that would be just identifying the person, while "You are it" carries the connotation that you are the unfortunate loser of the selection process.

Or, "Who is going to lunch?" "We are it." This emphasizes that "we" is a more limited group than was expected. Perhaps others who were going to join us are too busy.

"It is I", etc is imply identification with no connotation of exclusiveness.

Note that in spoken English, people almost always say "It is me" rather than "It is I" and "It is us" rather than "It is we". This is grammatically wrong but very common. We've had some arguments on this site before where some of the residents insist that the fact that it is so commonly used makes it right by default. I don't think we need to rehash that argument. Just accept that by the traditional rules, you should say "It is I", but that most people in fact say "It is me", and go where you like from there.

RE the last question: It's not that you use the same form of "to be" both ways with "he", it's that "it" and "he" take the same form of "to be". That is, what verb you use depends on the subject of the verb. "I am", "We are", "You are", "He is", "She is", "It is", "They are". The subject of the verb is irrelevant to picking the correct form. So "I am it" versus "It is I" because "I" takes "am" while "it" takes "is". "He is it" and "It is he" because "it" and "he" both take "is". If you find this confusing, imagine the verb was something other than "to be". If you said, "He eats a cake", you would use the singular verb because the subject, "he" is singular. If you said "They eat a cake", you use the plural verb because "they" is plural. The fact that "cake" is singular has nothing to do with it. "He eats cookies" -- you still use the singular verb even though it's plural cookies.

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Just so I'm clear, you're saying it's just the idiosyncrasies of 'to be'? –  zpletan Mar 29 '12 at 14:36
    
To a certain extent - the form of 'to be' is determined solely by the object of the sentence. In the first case, the object is 'he', and in the second the object is 'it' - both of which use the same form of the verb 'to be', which is 'is'. –  Hannele Mar 29 '12 at 14:42
    
@zpletan The same issue applies to other English verbs, but "to be" has more discernable forms. For most verbs, there are only two forms: with an "s", used when the subject is third person singular (she, he, it, or any singular noun), and without an "s", used for everything else. "I look", "you look", "he looks", "we look", "you look", "they look". Note "he" is the only one that uses "looks". With "to be" there are more different forms, but the same rule applies: it goes by the subject. –  Jay Mar 29 '12 at 19:21

It is I and the like are more old fashioned and falling away from common usage. Best used when referring to older texts, sounding posh, or sounding dramatic. Common speech and modern texts tend to rely more on the former than the latter examples.

Otherwise, both are grammatically correct, but as Jay mentioned, depending on context and usage can mean different things.

I would also mention that your latter examples have a more appropriate form:

e.g.

  • It is I vs It is me
  • It is he vs It is him
  • It is she vs It is her
  • It is they vs It is them
  • It is we vs It is us
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