If she is the subject, what is then the function of it? If it is the subject, then shouldn't the sentence be It is her since she is a subject pronoun? Thanks!

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    It should be It is her, or more likely It's her. The sentence cited is a monstrosity that marks one as a non-English speaker, because it's what schoolmasters used to try to teach their students to say 200 years ago, in the (incorrect) belief that the upper-classes spoke that way. It violates two rules of conversational English: (1) Contract personal subject pronouns and auxiliary forms of be following them; thus It's. (2) Any personal pronoun appearing after the verb appears in the objective form; thus her. Throw away the textbook you found that in. Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 14:17
  • John Lawler can speak so authoritatively because he's run the course (in fact, quite a few of them). And because all the people who actually used the English he says is obsolete died many years ago. Well, perhaps 99.9999% of them. Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 14:37
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    @Edwin: I think John is specifically referring to normal conversational English. I'm sure most competent native speakers are perfectly familiar with the "wrong" usage, and many of us will produce it ourselves from time to time (in literary contexts, facetiously, or as a misguided "formal" hypercorrection, for example). Who among us has never responded with "This is he/she" when answering the office phone to someone who says "Can I speak to [your name]?". Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 15:12
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    @FumbleFingers Me! I haven't! (though my father has done!) Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 15:52
  • @JohnLawler: Actually, sometime between Shakespeare and today, English grammar changed. 'Tis she became ungrammatical and It's her became grammatical. King Lear: 'Tis she is subcontracted to this lord. Othello: I know his gait, 'tis he.—Villain, thou diest! No 'Tis him's, and all the sentences with 'Tis her are like 'Tis her command. Commented Jun 10, 2019 at 20:03

4 Answers 4


This is an interesting question. In the Original Poster's sentence she is indeed the nominative case pronoun. It is also true that we associate this case marking with the subjects of finite verbs - such as the verb is in the original example.

However, occasionally we find nominative case pronouns in non-subject positions. Here she is in fact not the subject but the complement of the verb BE. In normal usage we would expect to see accusative case her here:

  • It is her.

This usage of the nominative case is unusual, but it is recognised and described in grammars such as The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, (Huddleston & Pullum 2002 p.459). As they point out, many speakers would find this usage rather 'pedantic'. Doubtless some people in the comments here are going to say it is a form of hyper-correction (I don't entirely disagree). This usage is definitely extremely formal, and notice it is even less acceptable if we couple it with an informal contraction of the verb:

  • It's she!

However, returning to the Original Poster's question, what then is the subject in this sentence? She here is nominative only in terms the name given to the pronoun used. It is not in subject position and is the complement of the verb BE. The subject then, by a process of elimination, must surely be it?

However, we do not have to take this for granted, there are several tests we can do:

Firstly, subjects normally occupy the position before the verb. This is obviously the case here.

Secondly, subjects invert with the auxiliary verb to form questions:

  • Is it she?

Here we see it inverted with is. Again, this seems to show that it is the subject. Thirdly, we use the subject and auxiliary to form question tags:

  • It is she, is it not?

Again here it can be shown to be the subject.

Fourthly in terms of case, although in standard English we may occasionally find nominative pronouns in non-subject positions, we hardly find accusative ones in subject position, unless co-ordinated. If we substitute it with a masculine pronoun, for example we would get:

  • He is she.

This is marginally acceptable. However...

  • Him is she.

... definitely isn't! Again this shows the first pronoun to be the subject.

Lastly every sentence in English, ignoring imperatives for the present purposes, is comprised of a subject and a predicate - where the predicate must include the verb. If we want to reiterate the sentence, we would probably get the following:

  • It is she! It is!

In the second sentence here, is is taking code. This means that it is standing in for the rest of the Verb Phrase. In this instance, is stands for: is she. This shows that she is in the Verb Phrase, and therefore in the predicate. Also, the fact that there are only two words in the new sentence shows that, because the predicate is is, it must be the subject.

What is the subject of It is she? It is it!

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    Also, the verb invariably agrees in number and person with "it" rather than with the other pronoun; this isn't visible here, but it is in analogous structures ("It is I/me" and "It is they/them", never "It am I" or "It are they").
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 6:11
  • Good answer. Near the end, has "is comprised of" become acceptable? In my school days, that was taught as an error. Choices were "is composed of" or "comprises". I did spot a dictionary reference so perhaps rampant misuse led to normality?
    – fixer1234
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 18:55

In classical grammar, it is the subject and she the subject predicate, which is in the same (nominative) case as the subject.

Your assumption that she is a ''subject pronoun'' is wrong. It is a nominative pronoun, and the nominative is not used only in the subject position but also in subject predicates.


My old brain recollects this as being reflexive, i.e. self-referential. Announcing a beauty-contest winner, or in a game of tag you would say "She is it!" which is grammatically identical. So "It is she" is technically correct. But like a lot of correct usages (wave bye-bye to subjunctive, everybody!) it is simply chucked out the window, along with the carcass of Samuel Johnson and his prescriptivism. Anarchy rules OK!

  • It's not a matter of throwing out the rules; rather, it's about determining what the rules actually are. Many (though certainly not all) of the prescriptivisms (for want of a better word) were deliberate impressions of Latin rules, or at least parallels of Latin rules, on the English language, the aim being to make the study of Latin easier on the one hand and to force English to conform to some ideal of respectability on the other. English has rules—oodles of them, some quite complex—there was no need to import foreign ones.
    – bye
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 1:53
  • Also: you can't use the inverted version (She is it) to prove anything at all, since it has no distinct nominative/subject and accusative/object forms. In current European Indo-European languages, one would normally use the accusative or dative for the second part of an identity statement. C'est moi. Es ist mir. Latin worked differently; English doesn't.
    – bye
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 2:04
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    Wellll, sheer WEIGHT of pop-usage has settled the question for us: It is her. Period. Anyone who disagrees can only grumble & fuss impotently Still, since this site advises resorting2 authorities, I haul out my Senior High Guide to Modern English (Corbin, Perrin, Buxton, no date =circa mid60s; Gage; Toronto). It's dictionary-ish; under It's me we get: "Formal grammarians explain that the verb be should always be followed by the nominative case: It is I. But in actual practice It's me is so generally used by educated people that it is now accepted standard usage... (1/2) Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 2:49
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    "...(even though some users of formal English still prefer It is I). Though It's me is fully acceptable, It's him, It's her, It's us, it's them are not" (!!-end of entry). LOVE that flat rejection at the end--sort of reminds you of King Knud (aka Canute) ordering the tide to recede, doesn't it? =[ Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 3:02

Think of the following situation: You have got three phone calls in the morning from your ex-wife and she wasn't very polite. Now the phone is ringing again. Your mother asks "Who's that? You say: It is she/her again!

Now the question after "she" is: Who is it? And so I take "she" for the subject. It is natural that the answer to such a question can't be "it".

Another matter is the question what do we call the word "it". And there you will find a lot of terms: an impersonal it as in It's raining or a grammatical marker that the subject is in inverted position after the verb or something of the kind, the term isn't really important. I had, when I was teaching languages, the same problem: what term to use for such words as here/there/it at the beginning of a sentence. I used the term "main subject"for the inverted subjected and the term "function word/marker for inverted subject-position or even secondary/ introductory subject. This way I had not to care about a list of various terms in various grammars and various languages. By the way, you can call it what you want, even subject if you want.

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