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.


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?


2 Answers 2


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.

  • +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.
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 0:09
  • 2
    @F.E. Indeed. Here for your delectation, degustation, and deliberation is — perhaps — an even better rebuttal against all the prissy peevers than Pullum’s. It’s at least more entertaining.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 1:49
  • "if what you hear in response is "It is I," don't let them in." made me chuckle.
    – Saturn
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 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'. Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 10:59
  • +1 for citing a reputable source. I appreciate the insight! Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 19:43

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.

  • 2
    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.) Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 0:34
  • @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
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 2:42
  • Is it dead, or are the case markers just zero?
    – Steely Dan
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 3:45
  • +1 good point and also correct..I appreciate your response! Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 19:44
  • @SteelyDan It's dead. It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 12:53

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