"It Is I" Versus "It Is Me"
Should you use the traditional structure, "It is I," or the more common structure, "It is me"?
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The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage says that it’s a style choice, and that “It is I” is a formal style and “It is me” is a more casual style. In fact, most people who write about language agree that unless you're answering the phone for the English department at the University of Chicago or responding to a Supreme Court judge, “That's me” is an acceptable answer (2, 3, 4, 5).
So even though Jodie is technically correct, it would probably be fairer for her and her friend to take the $5 and go get a cold beverage together.
“Woe Is Me” Versus “Woe Is I”
I also have to add a note about the phrase “Woe is me.” Back in 2007, Jan Freeman pointed out in her Boston Globe column that “Woe is me” is an entirely different kind of sentence from “It is me.” Whereas we have a little bit of controversy over sentences such as “It is me,” “Woe is me” is the only correct way to say it--it’s not controversial--because in “Woe is me,” “me” is in something called the dative case, not the nominative like it is in “It is me.” In other words, the “me” in “Woe is me” is an indirect object. The person is receiving woe (6).
It Is I Who Thank You
Finally, in the original version of this podcast, I wrote said, “Until next time, it is I, Grammar Girl, who thanks you for listening,” which created something of a firestorm in the comments section. Someone insisted that it should be “It is I, Grammar Girl, who thank you,” and I changed it and then a bunch of people thought that was wrong,” so I want to set the record straight once and for all.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (7) different usage commenters have made different arguments for the use of either a singular or a plural verb in sentences that start “It is I who,” so it’s not surprising that we saw arguments for both a singular and a plural verb in the the comments on the Grammar Girl.
Merriam-Webster notes that this is a rare type of sentence, and there’s no strong consensus about which verb is right. However, in the examples they’ve gathered, it’s more common to use the verb that goes with “I.” One of their examples reads, “It is I who possess these attributes (8).” So, ignoring the appositive, I’m going to stick with “It is I, Grammar Girl, who thank you for listening.”
[An earlier version of this article first appeared October 12, 2007.]
1. O'Connor, P. Woe Is I. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1996, p. 10.
2. Straus, J. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. Ninth Edition. Mill Valley: Jane Straus, 2006, p. 17.
3. Brians, P. Common Errors in English Usage. Wilsonville: William, James & Co, 2003. p.132.
4. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1994, p. 628.
5. HiDuke, J. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Dr. Grammar Website, 2001, http://www.drgrammar.org/faqs/#73 (accessed October 9, 2007).
6. Freeman, J. “Woe Is Us, Part I,” Boston Globe, March 14, 2007. (accessed June 11, 2012)
7. “it is I who,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, (accessed June 11, 2012)
8. Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Frontier, 1952 (quoted in “it is I who,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage)
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