'This is she' or 'this is her'?

The phone rings. You answer. “May I speak with Ms. XYZ?” the caller asks. You’re Ms. XYZ. How do you reply? A reader in Orange County isn’t sure.

“Many will respond with ‘This is she.’ I usually reply, ‘That is me.’ Are either of these correct? Should I instead just say, ‘I am Ms. XYZ’?”

Before I answer, let’s be clear about something: This is an academic exercise. You can reply “This is she,” “This is her,” “That is me,” “I gave at the office” or “’Sup, homie?” It’s up to you. Formal, proper grammar is optional — especially when you’re dealing with someone who just interrupted your dinner to try to sell you a home warranty. But that’s what my Orange County reader wanted to know: From a standpoint of proper, formal grammar, which reply is best?

If you apply the grammar lessons you got at school, you’d likely get the wrong answer. We’re taught that subject pronouns like “she” do the action in the verb: She gave at the office. And we’re taught that object pronouns like “her” receive the action of the verb: The donation was given to her. That could lead you to think that “This is me” would be the correct way to answer your caller, since the sentence already has a subject, “this,” leaving the second pronoun in what looks like an object position.

So you’d conclude that the answer is “This is me.” And you’d be left wondering why that’s so out of sync with everyday use. After all, almost no one says, “This is me.” The more formal-sounding “This is she” is more common.

This seems odd. Usually, people speaking casually go for the less formal option instead of wording that sounds proper. For example, you never hear “Whom are you talking to?” It’s always “Who are you talking to?”

So if everyone uses the more formal-sounding “This is she” in place of the seemingly more logical “This is me,” there must be a reason, right? Yes. And we would know their reason if, in school, we were taught about either copular verbs or the predicate nominative. Here’s the full story on both in my recent column.

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