Shirley from Spider Lake asked about pronoun choice in a
specific situation. Her example: He didn’t do it; it wasn’t he, OR He didn’t do it; it wasn’t him. In formal use, it should be he.
That particular slot is known as a predicate nominative. It
occurs after some form of the verb to be.
The verb to be has many forms: is,
are. was. were, has been, had been, etc.
That verb is the equivalent of the equal sign: My name is Mike could be rendered as My name = Mike.
Since it signals equation, the right side must use the same
case as the left side; they must match. In this case, the left side is in the
nominative case, so the right side must be in the nominative case.
When you’re using a noun, there’s no problem. I am
a retired teacher doesn’t have an
alternate spelling. The nominative case and the objective case are identical:
- I was
a teacher. [noun as predicate nominative]
- I like
[noun as direct object]
Pronouns change their spelling when they go from subject to
- It is
I [pronoun as predicate
don’t like me. [pronoun as
But a word of caution: formal use usually doesn’t show up in
ordinary conversations. You will find the rule described above being ignored
the clown taking up two parking spaces? I
am he. [formal]
the clown taking up two parking spaces? It’s
me. [informal or colloquial]
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