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?


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.

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  • +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. Dec 27 '13 at 0:09
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    @F.E. Indeed. Here for your delectation, degustation, and deliberation is — perhaps — an even better rebuttal against all the prissy peevers than Pullam’s. It’s at least more entertaining. – tchrist Dec 27 '13 at 1:49
  • "if what you hear in response is "It is I," don't let them in." made me chuckle. – Omega Dec 27 '13 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'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '13 at 10:59
  • +1 for citing a reputable source. I appreciate the insight! – Bailey Parker Dec 27 '13 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.

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    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.) – John Lawler Dec 27 '13 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 Dec 27 '13 at 2:42
  • Is it dead, or are the case markers just zero? – Steely Dan Dec 27 '13 at 3:45
  • +1 good point and also correct..I appreciate your response! – Bailey Parker Dec 27 '13 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. – Richard Gadsden Jun 30 '14 at 12:53

The traditional grammar rule states when a pronoun follows a linking verb, such as "was", the pronoun should be in the subject case. It’s also called the “nominative.” That means it is correct to say “that was I”.

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  • This is not a complete description of the traditional grammar rule in any case. There are situations where accusative is indisputably correct such as "It is impossible for you to be him." – herisson Mar 19 '17 at 2:25

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