Who is it?

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A reader in Brantford Florida asks:

My question is:
Can the following sentence be correct grammar?

I heard the doorbell, it must be he.
I heard the doorbell, it must be him.

I am having argument with someone and they say the first sentence is correct grammar.

My answer:

Your friend is indeed correct; however, if you come to my house and ring the doorbell, I’m sure to shout “It must be her!” This rule makes absolutely no sense.

This is stated on my website on the page about pronouns. I wrote “We also use the nominative for a pronoun following the infinitive form of the verb “to be” when the infinitive has no expressed subject.”

Another version of this is when answering the telephone. To be absolutely correct, when you call me and I answer the phone if you ask for Peter I should answer “This is he.” But I’m a bit of a fanatic grammarian and I will still answer “This is him” (or “Whadda ya want?” or “Who wants to know?” or “Never heard of him” depending on who I think is calling).

Probably the best way to look at this is to look at is to play around with the word order.

“This is he” could be arranged to “He is this” meaning he is this one on the phone. It’s like an equal sign in mathematics, which is why it’s only used with the verb “to be.”

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About Peter J. Francis

Peter J. Francis is owner and operator of HyperGraphix Publishing Services (HGPublishing.com). He has over 30 years of professional writing and editing experience. He holds a BA (Honors) degree in English (1987), a B. Ed. degree from SFU (2005) and a certificate in Special Education from SFU (2011). He teaches high school and offers editing services as time is available.