Subjects and Objects

If you visit my blog often, you know I dislike formal grammar. (Dislike isn’t the right word. I despise it.)

A discussion I saw on social media today stirred up all of those negative feelings. Someone asked which version is correct: “This is she” or “This is her.”

Several people explained (incorrectly) that this is the subject, is is the verb, and her is the object. Good grief. I’m appalled.

 Is doesn’t have an object. It’s like an equals sign. Compare these sentence pairs:

This is Jane. (Jane is subjective case)

This helped Jane.  (Jane is objective case)

This is she.  (she is subjective case)

This helped her.  (her is objective case)

It is I.  (I is subjective case)

It helped me.  (me is objective case)

This is the kind of mess you can get when people are forced to learn grammar. They lose their faith in common sense and invent garbled explanations to justify the answer they want.

But hold your horses – even though This is she and It is I are grammatically correct, they’re the wrong answers. They sound awful, and you’re not obliged to use them. This is her and It’s me sound better to most people. Feel free to use them.

The English language is a social tool. The rules are created by the people who use it. I use This is her myself.

If you’re holding your head in pain, I’m with you. This is the kind of pickle you get into when you start talking about formal grammar. We don’t need it. We shouldn’t bother with it. We’re better off without it.

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But what about subjects and objects? And linking verbs? Don’t they matter?

Yes – sometimes. But you can’t force everything you say and write into a little box of Correct English. Sometimes you need to go with the popular choice – grammar be damned.

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Here’s an example. Everyone knows all about is/are: is, plural; are, singular. Joe is here. Joe and Sam are here.

But we often say you are to one person: “Aunt Mary, you are my favorite aunt.”

The correct English would be “Aunt Mary, thou art my favorite aunt.” In Shakespeare’s day, people were starting to drop thou art, and grammarians were positively frothing and predicting the death of the English language. “You can’t say you are to one person!”

Today people win Pulitzer Prizes for books that use “You are”  for one person. Nobody cares. Nobody even notices.

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And here’s the clincher: The people of France are maniacs about correct grammar. There’s even an official body that makes the rules. And do you know what? The French say “It’s me” all the time (C’est moi). Grammar be damned.

Notice I’m not giving you permission to get together with a couple of friends and make up your own version of English. But I am giving you permission to go with the popular choice when millions of people share the same view.

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