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If "her" is objective and "she" is subjective, why do we say:

'Who is she?'

instead of:

'Who is her?'

apart from the latter sounding a bit strange?

For instance:

'That car belongs to her.'

vs.

'She has a nice car.'

Is the second sentence, 'Who is her?', actually grammatical and is there a situation where it is appropriate? (Or am I just plain wrong in thinking that "who" is the subject in both questions?)

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on ell.stackexchange.com – Mitch Jun 16 '15 at 1:16
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    @Mitch this is a common misunderstanding among native speakers, which I suspect Dog Lover is. – phoog Jun 16 '15 at 1:23
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    +1, good question! Identifying the subject can sometimes be a bit unclear like, maybe. Copular clauses can often be messy to figure out, grammar-wise. :) – F.E. Jun 16 '15 at 7:09
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    So, in "Who is who?" which would be the subject, the first "who" or the second "who"? Or should that example have been "Who is whom?"? Or rather should it be "Whom is who?"? Er, now I'm all confused and all. Does anyone know? :) – F.E. Jun 16 '15 at 7:17
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    This is an interesting sort of question, e.g. "Who (there) is me?" can be okay in a specific context and perhaps also "Who (there) would be me?". As to "Who (there) is her?" and "Who (there) would be her?", they too seem to be okay in a similar context (which one of them in the picture is Aunt Sally?). Hmm. :) -- And so, you probably ought to provide a specific context for your question. – F.E. Jun 17 '15 at 20:03
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It is incorrect that "who" is the subject, "she" is still the subject. If it wasn't a question it would be "She is who". Because it's a question it is inverted.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_grammar#Questions

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    But "who" is undeniably the subject of the question "who ate the cookie?" It's more about the verb than the fact that it is a question. – phoog Jun 16 '15 at 1:32
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    If you still think it could be "she is whom", you have missed the point entirely. Re-read phoog's answer. – Brian Hitchcock Jun 16 '15 at 5:10
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    @phoog If the question was "where is she", she would be the subject. How is "who is she" different? – Austin Jun 16 '15 at 5:16
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    @phoog I still don't see how that makes "who" the subject. If you wanted to answer the question in the OP with "She is Mary", "she" would be the subject that "is" links to "Mary", the predicate nominative. – Austin Jun 16 '15 at 6:43
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    @phoog A so-called predicate nominative is a relatively rare and affected phenomenon. That's why when someone asks who's that? we usually don't say It is I! A Predicate nominative is not a rule as such. However, in the normal reading of the sentence the subject would be she and the pronoun in the predicate would be who. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 17 '15 at 21:19
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The grammar I was taught in 4th grade says that "is" does not take an object, but rather a predicate nominative (PN, as in "she is a doctor") or predicate adjective (PA, as in "she is friendly").

Predicate nominatives take the subject case, not the object case. This rule, of course, results in the question that is more common than "why don't we say, 'who is her'?", which is whether we should say "it is I" or "it is me"? The grammatical pedant will typically advocate "it is I", though I don't think many would say with a straight face, being asked whether a group of people is the same group they saw the night before, "yes, that's they."

In light of the comments and other answers, it seems a good idea to refer to some sources. Wikipedia(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predicate_(grammar)#Predicates_in_traditional_grammar):

A predicative nominal is a noun phrase that functions as the main predicate of a sentence, such as George III is the king of England, the king of England being the predicative nominal. The subject and predicative nominal must be connected by a linking verb, also called a copula. A predicative adjective is an adjective that functions as a predicate, such as Ivano is attractive, attractive being the predicative adjective. The subject and predicative adjective must also be connected by a copula.

This leads one to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linking_verb:

In traditional grammars and guide books, the term linking verb is used to refer to verbs that describe the subject or link the subject to some complement such as a predicate adjective or predicate noun. This includes copulas such as the English verb be and its various forms, as well as verbs of perception such as look, sound, or taste and some other verbs that describe the subject, such as seem, become, or remain. In addition to predicate adjectives and predicate nouns, English allows for predicate prepositional phrases as well: John is behind the cocktail cabinet.

The following sentences include linking verbs.

  • Roses are red.
  • The detective felt sick.
  • The soup tasted weird.
  • Frankenstein resembles a zombie.

This explains why one should say "that music sounded awful" rather than "that music sounded awfully." Or, as I once heard someone say, or words to this effect (I sadly cannot find it online):

A wet dog smells well, but a wet dog smells bad.

Contrast the definition of "object" (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_(grammar)):

Traditional grammar defines the object in a sentence as the entity that is acted upon by the subject.[1] There is thus a primary distinction between subjects and objects that is understood in terms of the action expressed by the verb, e.g. Tom studies grammar - Tom is the subject and grammar is the object.

Linking verbs such as "to be" do not act on one of the two nouns in a simple sentence. Rather, they describe an existential relationship between them.

  • No, we pedants would say "Yes, those are they." – Brian Hitchcock Jun 16 '15 at 5:07
  • @BrianHitchcock touché. – phoog Jun 16 '15 at 5:40
  • @phoog Nice read, but I am confused by the terminology. What is the difference between a "Predicate nominal" and a "Predicate nominative"? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 17 '15 at 21:40
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QUESTION When answering the telephone, which sentence is correct; "This is he" or "This is him."? I always say "This is him" and my wife always "corrects" me. Thank you for your time.

SOURCE OF QUESTION & DATE OF RESPONSE Sewell, New Jersey Tuesday, June 23, 1998

GRAMMAR'S RESPONSE The correct form of that response (sorry about this) is "This is he." You've got a simple Linking Verb in that sentence, and what follows the verb should be a predicate nominative -- that is, in the nominative case; that is, "he." Informally, we could get away with "This is him," but I wouldn't recommend it. To avoid your wife's corrections, you could say "Speaking" or "This is Fred" -- substituting your name for Fred's (unless you're avoiding telemarketers, then go ahead and use Fred's name).

Source: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/grammarlogs/grammarlogs150.htm

  • I haven't down voted this answer, but this answer links to bad info on the internet. Compare its info to a vetted grammar source such as the 2002 reference grammar, H&P's CGEL (page 459, [9]). – F.E. Jun 16 '15 at 18:16
  • I would not say bad info. But in some respect you are right , in spoken language in some situations forms such as Who is him? /It is him are used and even tolerated. What I said refers to written standard language and was aimed at learners. – rogermue Jun 16 '15 at 18:37
  • H&P CGEL is mainly about the written form of today's standard English. They consider "This is him / These are them" ([9.iv.b]) as grammatical. This what they say about the nominative version "This is he / These are they" ([9.iv.a]) : "The other main construction where a nominative is quite commonly found, again in formal style, is with a demonstrative as subject, as in [iv]." – F.E. Jun 16 '15 at 18:44
  • I'm not in a position to contradict CGEL in this point. I can only say in fifty years I have not found Who is him? - or It is him in a novel. BNC has not one entry for Who is him? And for It is him BNC has as few as 13 entries. – rogermue Jun 16 '15 at 18:59
  • Consider: "This one here is me at the age of 12." <== This is example [9.vi.b] used in a context where we are looking at an old photograph. And they say that the nominative version [9.vi.a] is ungrammatical: "This one here is I at the age of 12." – F.E. Jun 16 '15 at 19:05
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After "Who is ...?" follows a subject case (nominative). If you have no feeling for it you have simply to learn it.

In the following text I mark subject case (nominative) with 1 behind the word.

1 She1 is not a student1.

2 She1 is the teacher1.

3 Who1 is she1?

If after a form of to be follows a noun it is subject case (nominative).

Edit: I might guess where your uncertainty comes from. There are sentences like

  • Who is it? - Answer: It's me.
  • Who will do it? You? - Answer: Me!? No!

Here "me" looks like an object case. But it is none. The explanations of such forms are very divergent. And often dubious. I can only give my view: French has the personal pronoun je (I), that is so short and weak that it is used only if a verb form follows. Without a verb French uses a clearer form that can be stressed: moi. I suppose this use of a strong form (moi), very similar to English me, has somehow influenced English.

So we should say English has got two forms:I and me. I is the normal form. "me" is the strong or emphatic form, used only in certain positions, without a verb. And it is no object case, it is a subject case, meaning "my person", in Latin mea persona. This mea gave French moi.

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    I don't mind the minus marks, but it would be interesting to know what objections are raised against my post. I don't see anything objectionable as Who is him is a no correct English, though it may be used by some speakers. – rogermue Jun 16 '15 at 16:54
  • A serious question:: I think I can assume that you would find acceptable the version "Who (there) is she?" when the speaker is looking at a picture; but what about something like "Who (there) would be she?" And what would you think about the version with "her", "Who (there) would be her?", in that instance? – F.E. Jun 18 '15 at 1:18
  • @F.E. Actually, with Who is . . .? you have to switch the verb to match not merely number but indeed the person of the pronoun following — if there is one. Sometimes there isn’t, and these are not the same sort of sentence as when there is. Who is coming for dinner? is quite a different scenario compared with the one we find in Who am I to say? Notice the subject governs which particular conjugation of be we must choose. None of this is optional; it’s how the language works. You cannot swap am for is in examples like “I don’t know who I am. Who am I really?” – tchrist Jun 18 '15 at 2:44

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