As far as my understanding goes, English does have a predicate nominative for the copula to be as well as semantically related words (to become, to seem) if the entity in question plays the role of subject in the activity it is involved in.

It is I who stole the hen's eggs.

It does use the oblique case if the entity has the role of object

It is me whom you saw.

However, the following defeats that rule

You are me

There are a bunch of songs with that title. Same for

He was me.

  • Would it be correct and idiomatic to say "You are I? /"He was I?"
  • Is there any mention of that behavior in grammar references?
  • Is the predicate nominative on the decline in general (have there been tendencies over the centuries)?
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    What you call the predicate nominative is a construction which is native to almost no English speakers, and idiomatic to few. It is almost entirely a "learned" form, representing a rule which was invented by some grammarian in the eighteenth century (probably to sell more grammar books) and has been taught ever since. The fact that most English speakers, even those that have been taught the rule, have difficulty with special cases such as yours, is a further reason to think that the rule is not part of the English that people speak. – Colin Fine Dec 8 '13 at 23:41
  • @ColinFine.. so you're saying that in its very soul, English doesn't have a predicate nominative? Which would make sense considering that it is used so inconsistently – Emanuel Dec 9 '13 at 0:01
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    @ColinFine I do wish people would stop piling on the 18th century grammarians, who were for the most part acutely aware of the differences between English and Latin. In fact, it has been pretty clearly demonstrated that It's me is a 19th century innovation; down to at least 1800 the stock form in all registers was 'tis I. – StoneyB Dec 9 '13 at 0:29
  • "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites . . ."--Jesus, Matthew 23:13-36. – rhetorician Dec 9 '13 at 1:41
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    @StoneyB. I've not met that claim (about It's me) before, and I admit that I didn't check the history of this particular rule. The OED has five citations for me as predicate between 1592 and 1800, including Shakespeare, Swift and Goldsmith. It must certainly be the case that at some point between Old English (which had full declension) and the present, forms like It is me became natural and It is I learned; and I would expect it to happen earlier rather than later, because once morphological case became vestigial, speakers would be inclined to reanalyse the variation in pronouns. – Colin Fine Dec 9 '13 at 23:50

The circumstances in which anyone would say either ‘You are I’ or ‘He was I’ are hard to imagine. Conditional clauses offer a better test, where we are, I would guess, more likely to find if you were me than if you were I and if he was me than if he was I.

In a section headed ‘Variation in pronoun choice after forms of be’, the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’ speaks of

. . . a tendency for the accusative form to spread in popular usage into contexts traditionally reserved for the nominative form.

and confirms that

. . . the accusative form is the normal choice in practice, in both conversation and the written registers.


Barrie England's answer is very good, and I don't think I can add much to it. As he said, it is idiomatic to use accusative-case pronouns for any kind of predicative complement, as in "You are me" or "He was me." You can hear sentences like this all the time from native speakers (well, not exactly like these; these particular sentences are pretty weird in terms of what they mean). This is mentioned in good grammar references.

I don't know about the tendencies in usage. The modern predicate-accusative construction is not particularly recent; it's at least more than a century old. The predicative nominative doesn't come naturally to native speakers, but it's also not completely dead nowadays, and while it's difficult to predict the future, I don't think the predicate nominative will go entirely extinct any time soon.

The main reason I wanted to make this post was to correct a misapprehension in the original question. "It is me whom you saw" is somewhat awkwardly put together. Prescriptively, a personal pronoun and a following relative pronoun are supposed to be assigned case separately, the personal pronoun based on its role in the matrix clause and the relative pronoun based on its role in the embedded clause. Examples: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone", "I, whom you scorned, have now triumphed." There is an observable tendency for people to alter the case of the personal pronoun to match the case of the relative pronoun, but this is not generally considered to be correct standard grammar.

Since people generally don't use "whom" unless they're aiming for prescriptively correct grammar, "It is I whom you saw" would be better, in my opinion. Colloquially, "It's me you saw" or "It's me who you saw" both work.

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