Is It I or Me? Which Pronoun to Use When

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday when we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can find. Today I’ve got my grammar hat on.

I don’t really own one of those, but I should. Because I want to talk about pronouns. When do you use the pronouns I, he, she, we, they and when do you use me, him, her, us, them?

Remember in school when students used to speak up in class and say things like, “Me and you can do the project,” and the teacher would interrupt with “You and I“? It got to the point where it seemed like it was never “you and me” and always “you and I.”

It’s not.

So let’s talk about when you should use I and when you should use me.

Linking verb. “It is I!” Yes, believe or not, that is correct. Long before cell phones and even caller ID, we used to get phone calls at the house and someone might ask, “May I speak to Julie?” I would answer, “This is she.” The reaction I got from the boy calling indicated whether I should keep dating him or relegate him to the wouldn’t-know-good-grammar-if-it-slapped-him discard pile. (Just kidding.)

Honestly, it does sound a little weird because we’re used to hearing “It is me” and “This is her.” But a sentence with a linking verb is like the symmetric property in math: If A = B, then B = A. Since there is no action verb, the linking verb functions like an equal sign. So if “She is this,” then “This is she.” We certainly wouldn’t say, “Her is this.”

When there is only a linking verb, even when the pronoun is at the end, the proper word is I, he, she, we, they. So it’s “What a jerk is he!” and “The coolest girls are we!”

Cheerleaders in pyramid
“The coolest girls are we!”

And since that sounds weird, you could always change up the order of the words or the sentence to flow better, like “What a jerk he is!” and “We are the coolest girls!”

Comparison. “The tree is taller than we.” “Everyone is better dressed than he.” “No one is as happy as I.” Why do these comparisons call for the subjective pronoun (I, he, she, we, they)?

Because the final verb is not stated, but rather implied. If you really finished the sentences, they would be “The tree is taller than we are.” “Everyone is better dressed than he is.” “No one is as happy as I am.” You certainly wouldn’t say, “The tree is taller than us are.”

Tree trunk
“The tree is taller than we.”

Direct object. Flashback grammar lesson! (Stop groaning in the back row there.) A direct object is the object at which the action is directed. Since I know that didn’t clear it up, here are some examples:

Hunger makes my stomach growl. “My stomach” is the direct object of “makes.”

My stomach wants breakfast. “Breakfast” receives the action of “wants.”

For breakfast, I eat bacon. “Bacon” is the object of the action “eat.”

Bacon makes me fat. “Me” is what gets fat when I eat too much bacon.

Get it?

Direct objects are only present with action verbs because they receive the action. And they are always me, him, her, us, and them. The alternatives of I, he, she, we, and they are actors, not receivers, of action in a sentence; they are the ones that do things. Me, him, her, us, and they are acted upon. So if the action is directed at a pronoun, make sure you use me, him, her, us, and they:

He kissed me.

I kissed him.

Kisses? I like them.

Kissing thrills us.

Couple kissing
“Kissing thrills us.”

Object of a preposition. A preposition is a word that expresses spatial, temporal, or other relationship, such as with, in, around, for, below, under, during, etc. When the pronoun is the object of a preposition, it’s me, him, her, us, them. Example: “Joe went to the store with Anna and me.”

If you’re unsure, you can easily tell by removing the other object of the preposition (in this example, “Anna”): “Joe went to the store with me.” It’s obviously “me” in this situation, but it might be less obvious with a longer sentence and an additional object in the mix. If you’re not sure, try it out with each pronoun and you’ll likely hear what you need to do.

Julie with "you and me" caption
Julie finished a grammar post with you and me.

When you’re not sure what the proper pronoun should, shift things around in the sentence and try out different forms. It might help you to determine the appropriate choice.

Or just check back here for these tips!

Have you struggled with pronoun usage? Do you have any sentences from your writing you want to check with me?

And if you’re looking for extensive copy editing, click on the tab above. I’d be happy to consult with you about your project.

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24 thoughts on “Is It I or Me? Which Pronoun to Use When

  1. Perfect, Julie! As you know, this is one of my favorites. I even made a grammar joke about it in my MG book. (I couldn’t resist–it was right there.)

    My younger sister would answer the phone this way, “This is her.” Even in high school, I thought she sounded terrible. I think she kept saying it incorrectly to drive me crazy. My theory was that even though we lived in the Houston area, but we didn’t have to sound like it. 😉

    Love, love, love this post!

    1. Thanks, Diana! I make grammar jokes in my books too. 🙂

      Actually, one of my pretentious characters corrects someone else in the midst of a really heated argument. And while I doubt I’d do that, I KNOW I would be thinking it. LOL.

  2. Awesome post, Julie. Thanks so much for clarifying. Now, if I can just keep it all straight! I need to bookmark this page:-)

  3. Great post! I always had trouble with “who” and “whom” until a college professor explained it in a similar way. Change the sentence to use “he” and “him.” If “him” sounds MORE correct, then use “whom.” (Think of the ‘m’s) For example, “To him were you speaking?” sounds better than “To he were you speaking?” So the sentence would really be “To whom were you speaking?”

  4. This was one of the first things talked about in the grammar class I went to at DFWcon. The teacher, Tex, gave us another good tip. A good check rule is to take out the extra words and see if it still makes sense on its own.

    ex. Julie gave Diana and (I/me) a grammar lesson.
    You wouldn’t say “Julie gave I a grammar lesson.”
    So the answer is: “Julie gave Diana and me a grammar lesson.”

    I found that tip really helpful. Now hopefully that’s right, or else that tip was worthless.

    1. I wanted to go to Tex’s class to hear what she said, but it conflicted with something else I needed to go to. Glad to know it was good.

      I did mention that, I think, to take out the extra words and try it without. And yes, you’re right. 🙂

  5. Glad to see someone else besides me who cares about grammar. I only wish you had pointed out the using compound pronouns (she and I or her and me) does not change the case. I’m forever reading or hearing someone who knows to use objective case if there’s only one pronoun but who changes to nominative whenever the pronouns are compound.

    1. I did cover compound, David–at least in the object of a preposition. Compounding doesn’t change anything, of course.

      But honestly, I’m impressed by your comment because I tend to forget what everything’s called (like objective, nominative, etc.). I just know how to do stuff, not what it’s called. (I phone my English teacher sibling if I must know. 🙂 )

      Thanks, David! Love your grammar posts too.

  6. Oh, Julie, this was like going back to eighth grade for me with our principal and teacher, Sister Adrian Maria! Ah, she was a freaking tyrant but she taught us English SO well. I hear people with bachelor and master’s degrees who say, “He gave it James and I” all the time and I want to scream.

    1. Go ahead. Scream. Maybe if we all started screaming every time they did that, they’d stop. LOL.

      And I have never been compared to a nun before. Kind of cool! 🙂 Thanks, Patti!

  7. I’m such a grammar geek that I…
    1) LOVED this. I wanted to jump up and yell, “Say it sister!” Amen.
    2) still giggle with pronouns. I can remember hearing my Southern teacher say “I, you, he, she, it, we you, they” because he, she, it ended up sounding like he shit.

    Wait, have I shared too much?!

    I always tell my kids, who I constantly correct for me and I, that it’s like dropping the other person (I went to the store, so Anna and I went to the store), so I loved that you pointed that out.

    Grammar sisters, unite!

    1. I love having you as a grammar sister! Amen, indeed.

      (And the teacher never caught on to that connection?!! My high school English class would have been giggling too much.)

  8. Thanks for clearing that all up. The “me” and “I” one gets me every time. Neither one of them sound correct.

    I do, however, answer the phone question the same way you do, with “This is she.” I like the way that one sounds. Call me a stuffy grammar snob if you will, but I’m sticking with it.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  9. I always answer the phone: “This is she” — and the folks on the other end are generally dead silent.

    Pet peeve: I HATE when cashiers or clerks shout: “Can I help who’s next?”

    Ack.

    Believe or not, the thing I ALWAYS have to look up is the use of “was” vs “were.” Is it:

    If I were you, I’d eat a banana right now.

    Or is it

    If I was you, I would eat a banana.

    I’m going with the former.

    Methinks I’ve been teaching at community college for too long.

    1. I never know that was/were thing either, Renee! That’s it; you may have just inspired another grammar post. Because now I MUST know!

      Thanks!

      1. Renee is right! There is a was/were thing. The correct sentence is the “If I were you, I’d eat a banana…” because I’m not you and can’t ever be you, so the verb has to be “were.” You can use “was” when there is a chance that the thing that’s being said could possibly be true. (“If I was in the kitchen, I’d eat a banana.” I’m not in the kitchen at the moment, but I could be if I got up and went there. It’s not impossible.)

        I love those obscure grammar rules. You should see the tests I wrote for them (in my other teacher life). 🙂

  10. Sorry Julie, as soon as someone says prepositional phrase, my eyes start to cross. I could never remember all those terms and rules, just like all the formulas for math. But I do remember to use has, have or had with seen or been. 🙂

  11. Oh, this explained everything! Thank you! I always have people make remarks when I answer the phone. Apparently people think “This is she” sounds weird. And I could never explain why it was right, a part from It just sounds right. People don’t tend to believe that. Now, I have an answer for them. Although, sometimes it’s just easier to say “This is Emma” when I answer in front of other people. 🙂 Oh, and thanks to Diana for the banana explanation. That makes so much sense, and with the example, I’ll never forget it! The one that gets me the most is the that/who. I heard a fellow teacher say, “All of you that like red stand over here…” and I gritted my teeth. Can’t stand it! I think more people need to play Do You Love Your Neighbor. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Emma! That, who, which is a pain for a lot of people. I’m sure hearing that from a teacher was especially cringe-worthy. 🙂

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