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A while ago I heard a preacher say during a speech the following personal anecdote:

When I arrived at the Atlanta airport, I saw a man with my name written on a card approach me and say 'are you reverend G…?' And I said 'He is I'…

He is I? Is that correct? I guess if we apply the rule “when the pronoun is the subject of a verb” it might be technically correct, but even Shakespeare wrote “Oh, woe is me.…” not “woe is I.”

I wonder if the preacher knocked at doors saying “it is I.”

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    Woe is me does not mean I am woe but Woe is to me, i.e. I have been afflicted with woe. Jan 3 '14 at 20:53
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    It is not pretentious and you are confused. Jan 3 '14 at 21:26
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    It does seem an excessively pretentious response. The normal reply would be 'that's me', 'me' being the predicate of the sentence. But if you were brought up in the school of self-deprecation, like men of the cloth might be, a better reply would be a jocular 'I'm afraid so'.
    – WS2
    Jan 3 '14 at 21:52
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    I don't know about pretentious, but definitely awkward, or even weird. "Yes, I am" or even "I am he" sounds better to my ear
    – Kevin
    Jan 3 '14 at 22:13
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    @Susan: They're not all saying the same thing. Also they're saying them in different ways, some said more often than others 'It is I' is way more common than 'He is I').
    – Mitch
    Jan 3 '14 at 22:46
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He is I is perfectly grammatical. Is (or be, am, are, or any of the forms of be) is an intransitive verb, that is, there is no action of the verb being done to a direct object. Therefore the subject is also being spoken about after the verb.

I am cold. Who is cold? I am. I am seething with anger. Who is angry? I am.

A transitive verb is one in which an action is done to another, the direct object.

Frank hurt me. Hurt is a transitive verb. Frank is the subject, and the direct object is me. Me is the accusative case of I, that is, the case of the direct object.

Since am has no direct object, the subject and what follows are both in the same case. (It happens to be called the nominative case.)

He is I and It is I are fine. Who is it? one might ask of a knock on the door. It is I. or It is I, Harry. are completely correct.

Whether they are completely risible answers does not negate their correctness.

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  • Hi is I? Sounds like, Hi! It's I. I'm pretty sure too that "It's me" as a reply to "Who's there?" is grammatical.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 3 '14 at 23:09
  • Pope Pullum says we shouldn't associate with people who say things like 'It is I' conversationally. And he co-authored CGEL. Jan 3 '14 at 23:37
  • @Susan: In the case of OP's specific usage in a specific context, I'd turn that on its head and say It's grammatical, but is it acceptable? To which rhetorical question I would answer that unless the speaker is deliberately being facetious, the answer is a resounding "NO!" Jan 3 '14 at 23:37
  • do grammatical there mistakes are, but that judgement also depends on which variety you're discussing. "It's me" is 'correct' in most varieties of English except for maybe the most formal. And there's something about "he is I" that is grating to me.
    – Mitch
    Jan 3 '14 at 23:41
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    I don't think your answer is risible in the slightest. I actually think you make a decent case for defending "He is I". My examples were more for my benefit that for yours. I don't see why "He is me" is ungrammatical, that's all.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4 '14 at 0:12
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"He is I"—not grammatical. I follow the verb: "He is me," which is correct...and wonky. This preacher should've kept it simple: "I am Jesus."

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  • Well-played... "I follow the verb".
    – Mitch
    Jan 3 '14 at 22:48
  • When would you suggest that I read about intransitive verbs, Susan? I suggest that you drop "would" from your suggestion. You probably agree that the following is grammatical. "It is me."
    – mcormc
    Jan 4 '14 at 0:02
  • Mcormc: I agree that He is me is grammatical, but people who use the word "correct" in this context often don't think so. (I guess that when @Susan says "I certainly misuse me all the time" (in a comment to the question), she means that she thinks that "It it me" is not correct). I agree with FumbleFingers that "He is I" is awkward and bizarre, but not ungrammatical. But I can't work out what you mean when you say "I follow the verb".
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 4 '14 at 1:58
  • @ColinFine Jesus' followers are asked to follow the verb or the "word". It's a biblical reference.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 4 '14 at 10:13

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