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.