GREEN for RIGHT
RED for WRONG
Different parts – due to changes in number and tense – of the VERB (to) be, such as am / are / is / was / were / will be, etc., followed by PERSONAL PRONOUNS
There is a tendency to say
It was me who did it.
It was I who did it.
All the blue words above are parts of the VERB to be. PERSONAL PRONOUNS following the different forms of be should be in the SUBJECTIVE case – rather than in the OBJECTIVE case – if they form the SUBJECT of the sentence. I say should be because this is one of those mistakes that isn’t immediately noticeable, and when the wrong form / case is used, the error becomes absorbed into common usage, and – some may say unfortunately – accepted as the norm. Others may have a different opinion.
There’s a traditional school of thought which would – at all times – put the SUBJECTIVE case of the PERSONAL PRONOUN after all parts of the VERB to be, despite the fact that it may be the OBJECT of the VERB. The VERB to be is regarded as a LINKING VERB as opposed to an ACTION VERB.
Another view would be that the OBJECTIVE case of the PERSONAL PRONOUN should be used when that case is the actual OBJECT of another VERB in a sentence, thus making the to be VERB somewhat immaterial.
A third opinion would be Who’s going to know the difference anyway? if the OBJECTIVE case is used instead of the SUBJECTIVE in some situations. Many years ago, I saw the following graffiti on a building site in Dublin: Are all Irishmen ignorant and apathetic? And the answer was: I don’t know and I don’t care. This frame of mind could well be transferred to It was me / It was I. Ignorance is bliss!
As this area of the English language is a minefield, this lesson will focus mainly on is / was and PERSONAL PRONOUNS in their SUBJECTIVE FORMS. A key word – included in nearly all the sentences as a strategy for effective learning – is the RELATIVE PRONOUN who. Strangely enough, the mistake tends to occur mainly when who is included. With this in mind, the problem is narrowed down to what form of the PERSONAL PRONOUN goes in between It is / It wasand who. Let’s limit the choice to this combination.
It is me who got the main part in the school play. (me is in the OBJECTIVE case)
It is I who got the main part in the school play. (I is the SUBJECT of the VERB got.)
It was him who stole the money.
It was he who stole the money. (he is the SUBJECT…)
It was them who saw it.
It was they who saw it. (they is the SUBJECT…)
It is her who’ll accompany you.
It is she who’ll accompany you. (she is the SUBJECT…)
It is us who will go on the school tour to London.
It is we who will go on the school tour to London. (we is the SUBJECT…)
An easy way to remember the right word is to delete It is / It was and the word who, from the ten sentences above, and see which of the two choices in each pair makes sense.
Me got the main part in the school play. (WRONG)
I got the main part in the school play. (RIGHT)
As one can see from this example, there would be no problem if the PRONOUN started the sentence. However, as soon as the PRONOUN is pushed over somewhat in the sentence to accommodate It and a part of the to be verb, me tends to take over because it sounds okay. The fact that me is correct in the sentence She liked me, leads to the misconception that me and to bewill always be an item. Not always!
Note the difference between the use of I (NOMINATIVE / SUBJECTIVE FORM) and me (OBJECTIVE FORM) of the PERSONAL PRONOUN.
I did it. ———————- (I in SUBJECTIVE FORM )
It was I who did it.——— (I in SUBJECTIVE FORM after was – can’t say Me did it.)
However, when the PRONOUN is the OBJECT of the VERB, the OBJECTIVE FORM is used.
It was me he accused. (me is the OBJECT of the VERB accused)
It was I he accused.
Again, an easy way to remember is to omit It was and see which of the two makes sense. (A RE-ARRANGEMENT OF THE REMAINING WORDS IS NECESSARY.)
me he accused = he accused me = He accused me. (RIGHT)
I he accused = he accused I = He accused I.(WRONG)
Write the correct form of the PERSONAL PRONOUN in the following sentences:
1. It was ________ who sang the song. (he / him)
2. It seemed to be ________ who recited the poem. (her / she)
3. It was ________ who wrote the script. (they / them)
4. It wasn’t ________ who directed the play. (I / me)
5. It was ________ who danced all night. (us / we)
6. It was _____ (her / she) who was late.
7. It is _____(we / us) who were wrong.
8. It might have been______ (he / him) who slipped out of the house for an hour.
9. Is it _________who lost the money? (them / they)
10. What were ________ being accused of anyway? (us / we)
1.he 2. she 3. they 4. I 5. we 6. she 7. we 8. he 9. they 10.we
The VERB (to) be and the SUBJECTIVE cases of PERSONAL PRONOUNS go hand in hand, as long as the PRONOUN is the SUBJECT of the VERB. A good learning tip on this lesson is related to the birth of a baby. When enquiring as to whether the newly-born is a boy or a girl, the question usually is: Is it a he or a she? The response is usually: It’s a he. / It’s a she. (It = The baby!)
One of my favourite hymns is Here I Am, Lord. Composed by the American, Dan Schutte, it contains the line: Here I Am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
It was I who did it. (But one would get away with It was me …)