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What rules make “Remember me, who am your friend” grammatical?

This is a line spoken by the Emperor to Luke in Star Wars. I always wondered if this is grammatically correct.

Luke says something like "You are mistaken ..." which the Emperor answers with

No, it is you who are mistaken!

Why wouldn't he say

No, it is you who is mistaken!


I don't know what rules apply here but my stomach tells me the latter is (at least also) correct, although you would say "you are mistaken". It feels as if he should be referring to "you" in the third person.

Could you please shed some light? Are both correct or – if not – which one is correct? And why?


4 Answers 4


The sentence

It is you who are mistaken

is a Cleft sentence, derived from the base sentence (shown here with focussed subject You)

You are mistaken

by the Clefting process, which extracts the focussed NP (you) to be the predicate of a dummy clause with It subject and some form of be as verb (generating It is you in this case), and then making the non-focussed rest of the original sentence into a relative clause modifying the focus NP (generating who are mistaken in this case).

Verb agreement is invariant under clefting, so if the predicate is are mistaken in the original,
it will still be are mistaken in the clefted variant.

  • 5
    Thank you. I always love answers which teach me 8 new things at once.
    – Lunivore
    Feb 13, 2012 at 22:49
  • 1
    Hmm. Sentences like “It’s me who has to pick up the pieces” or “It’s you who has a problem” seem fine to me. COCA has 13 tokens for “It’s you who have” and 12 for “It’s you who has”. So pretty even there. Jan 6, 2021 at 19:27
  • Does the unclefted sentence/underlying sentence have the forgrounded element or the ‘relative clause’ as the subject? I.e is it “Bob ate all the pies” or “[Who ate all the pies] is Bob”? Jan 6, 2021 at 19:32
  • 1
    Depends on what church you go to, but I'd say Bob ate all the pies is the basic form, but the derivation of the wh-cleft starts by generating [Who ate all the pies] is Bob. Jan 6, 2021 at 19:38

The Emperor's grammar is correct. Do not question the Emperor. "You" is second person, by definition--never third person--and is therefore conjugated with the verb form "are". I think you may be tripped up by the fact that this is a very formal construction. In everyday speech, we might expect to hear "No, you're the one who's mistaken, buddy." This is colloquial and idiomatic, plus it is grammatically correct because the verb form "is" accords with "one". But, let me emphasize, "It is you who is... " is out-and-out ungrammatical and it it sounds especially bad because it is a formal register with a glaring grammatical error.


I think you stated the answer in your question - the are refers to you.

Similarly, it is he who is mistaken.

The who just signifies which person is mistaken, the rest of the sentence is still complete.

  • I had "It it 'sb.' who is ..." in mind as the general case. That the 'sb.' happens to be the person who is being spoken to, seems irrelevant to me.
    – bitmask
    Feb 13, 2012 at 22:00
  • I think this is precisely it. The first "is" quite correctly agrees with the word "it", but once the utterance goes on to clarify that "it" is in fact "you", it's obvious the correct verb form from that point on should be "are". Feb 13, 2012 at 22:27

First off, since I'm a geek, here are the two quotes straight from the script:

LUKE You're gravely mistaken. You won't convert me as you did my father.

[The Emperor gets down from his throne and walks up very close to Luke. The Emperor looks into his eyes and, for the first time, Luke can perceive the evil visage within the hood.]

EMPEROR Oh, no, my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken...about a great many things.

Technically, the script is right. The key factor in determining tensing of the verb following the word "who" is the nature of the subject noun placed immediately before it. The use of "who" creates a compound object that is then applied to a new subject. Examples:

You like ice cream.

You are the one who likes ice cream.

It is you who like ice cream.

From first to second sentence, the subject applied to the verb "like" changes, from the second-person "you" to the third-person "the one". This means that the verb of this clause must change with the subject. The original subject "You" is then termed with "are" to identify the subject of the full sentence as the compound object, a singular entity that likes ice cream. The connotation subtly changes between the first and second sentence; the second sentence's compound object infers that the subject is select in that identification; that of the group, only one likes ice cream.

The third sentence flips it back around again; while still having two subjects, the subject of the main sentence is now the third-person "it", and the subject of the compound object is "you". The verb is thus conjugated in the second person. The connotation is the same; there is one person who likes ice cream among the group, and the speaker is identifying that person.

The use of "who" or "that" to form a compound object is not new. From the Bible (Isaiah 55):

(NIV) Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!

(AKJV) Ho, every one that thirsts, come you to the waters, and he that has no money; come you, buy, and eat.

I picked two translations that use relatively modern speech, but the link has most English translations (didn't see TEV or NRSV, but I digress).

  • I think that should be "It is you who likes ice cream."
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 14, 2012 at 8:55
  • @RoryAlsop: there is confusion enough already, without you contradicting your own answer. Feb 14, 2012 at 14:13
  • :-) I know - but I just couldn't resist.
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:35

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