It is I, Grammar Girl, here to help you understand when to use the words “I” and “me.”
A listener named Jodie wanted to know which is correct: “It is I” or “It is me.” She says that when she answers the phone and the person asks, “Is Jodie there?” she usually responds by saying, “This is she.” But one of her friends says this is incorrect, and now they have a $5 bet on the question.
The short answer is that Jodie wins. The traditional grammar rule states when a pronoun follows a linking verb, such as “is,” the pronoun should be in the subject case. It’s also called the “nominative.” That means it is correct to say, “It is I,” and “It was he who dropped the phone in shock when Jodie answered, ‘This is she,’” because “he” is the same type of pronoun as “I.”
What Are Linking Verbs?
Linking verbs are words like “is,” “was,” “were,” “appear,” and “seem,” which don’t describe an action so much as describe a state of being. When pronouns follow these non-action verbs, you use the subject pronouns such as “I,” “she,” “he,” “they,” and “we.” Here are some more correct examples:
Who called Jodie? It was he.
Who told you about it? It was I.
Who had the phone conversation? It must have been they.
Who cares? It is we.
Now the problem is that 90 percent of you are almost certainly thinking, “Well, that all sounds really weird. Is she serious?”
Yes, I’m serious, and that is the traditional rule, but fortunately most grammarians forgive you for not following the rule. In her aptly titled book “Woe Is I,” Patricia O’Connor notes that almost everyone says, “It is me,” and that the “It is I” construction is almost extinct (1).
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—in other words, in a very formal situation for the English language—“That’s me” is an acceptable answer (2, 3, 4).
So even though Jodie is technically correct, it would probably be more fair for her and her friend to take the $5 and go get a cold beverage together.