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Welcome to this week's writing lesson from


I am I 

Lesson Topic: Linking Verbs and Correct Pronoun Usage

Let's say Kevin calls John on the phone.  He asks for John by name because he doesn't recognize John's voice.  The conversation begins like this:
John: Hello.

Kevin: Hello, is John there?

What should John say?  He has two choices:

It's me.


It's I.

Before we tell you the correct answer, let's explain the grammar.

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun.  For example

Michelle is my friend.  She gave me a present.   

For this lesson, we will concentrate on pronouns that DO actions and pronouns that RECEIVE actions.

Subject Pronoun (performer or does action) Object Pronoun (receives action)
I me
you you
he him
she her
it it
we us
they them
who whom

Michelle is my friend.  She gave me a present. 


Michelle is my friend.  She gave me a present. 

In English, the subject of a sentence is the person, place, or thing that performs.  Look at the following sentence:

Franklin kicked Tommy.   

Franklin is the subject because Franklin is performing an action; that action is kicking (kick).  What or who received that action?  Tommy.  Since Tommy received the action, we can use a pronoun from the list of object pronouns.  The pronoun for males that receives an action is him.  Therefore, we can correctly write

Franklin kicked him.   

Now look at this sentence:

Franklin is a boy.   

What or who is receiving the action?  Nothing.  Nothing is receiving  the action because Franklin is not doing anything. He is NOT really performing anything.  He is BEING something.  He is BEING a boy.  Since boy is NOT receiving any action, use a pronoun from the list of subject pronouns.  Therefore we can correctly write

Franklin is he, the boy over there.


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Some verbs do not show an action.  Some verbs just show the subject BEING something, for example, the verb to be (am, is, are, was, were, have been).  This type of verb is called a linking verb (also called a linking word).  The verb to be is not the only linking verb in English.  Here are some of the most common linking verbs:

Linking Words
appear remain become seem
feel smell* grow sound
look taste* be is
are am was were

*Smell and taste can also be an action word.  

  action word linking word
smell I am smelling the roses. Roses smell great.
taste I am tasting the soup. Soup tastes great.

Now, let's talk about the first mini-quiz we gave you at the beginning.  Should John say, "It's me" or "It's I"?

Look at the verb.  The verb is is which is a linking word.  Therefore, we can NOT use the pronouns that receive an action (object pronouns).  There was NO action to receive.  Therefore, use the subject pronouns.  The pronoun that we can use is I.  "It's I" is the answer.

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Quiz time

Directions: Read the sentences.  Underline the verbs.  Tell whether each verb is an action word or a linking word.  If there is a choice, circle the correct pronoun. 

1.  Yes, that is (he, him).

2.  George smells great because (he, him) has been smelling the flowers in the garden.

3.  Charles gave (she, her) a sandwich.  (She, her) loved it.

4.  Charles is (he, him).  (He, Him) is the chairman.

5.  Margie and (I, me) arrived at the party late.

6.  Mom took Margie and (I, me) shopping for new clothes.

7.  (Who, Whom) did you see?  I saw (they, them).

8.   My boss is (she, her).

9.  (Who, Whom) will help (I, me)?  The people who will help you find a job are (they, them).

10.  If there is a group of people who hates exercise, it is (we, us). 

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Answers are in red; type of verb is in purple; explanations are in blue.

1.  Yes, that is he.

     Verbs: is-linking

2.  George smells great because he has been smelling the flowers in the garden.

     Verbs: smells-linking; smelling-action

     Explanation: As noted above, smell can be both a linking verb and an action verb.  Here is an example of that.

3.  Charles gave her a sandwich.  She loved it.

     Verbs:  gave-action; loved-action

4.  Charles is he He is the chairman.

     Verbs: is-linking; is-linking

5.  Margie and I arrived at the party late.

     Verbs arrived-action

6.  Mom took Margie and me shopping for new clothes.

     Verbs: took-action

7.  Whom did you see?  I saw them.

     Verbs: see-action, saw-action

     Explanation: Look at the question.  We know who did the action--YOU.  We want to know who received that action.

8.   My boss is she.

     Verbs: is-action

9.  Who will help me?  The people who will help you find a job are they.

     Verbs: help-action; are-linking

     Explanation: Look at the question.  This is the opposite of number 7.  We know who received the action--ME.  Now we want to know who did it.  Look at the second sentence.  The main verb is areWho will help you find a job is an adjective clause that describes the people.  If you remove the adjective clause, you are left with The people are they.  For more information about adjective clauses, click here.

10.  If there is a group of people who hates exercise, it is we

     Verbs:  is-linking; is-linking


  Rules to Remember!


Some verbs are action words and some verbs are linking words.  When using pronouns with linking words, you are usually required to use subject pronouns.  Object pronouns RECEIVE actions.  If there is no action, there is nothing to receive.  Therefore use subject pronouns.

     Charles is he.


If a linking word connects the subject to another word that means the same thing as the subject, the sentence is reversible.

     Karen is the president

Karen is the subject; is is a linking word; the president means Karen.  Therefore, you can write

     The president is Karen.

This is a good way to determine which pronoun to use.  For example,

     Karen is (her, she).

Which pronoun should you use?  Reverse it and see which one is correct.

     INCORRECT: Her is Karen.

     CORRECT: She is Karen.

Look at this sentence:

     Karen is tall.

Is this sentence reversible?  No.  It is NOT reversible because tall does NOT mean Karen; tall describes Karen.      


Who and whom are not the same and they are not interchangeable.  Who is used when you want to know which person DID the action.  Whom is used when you want to know which person RECEIVED the action.

     Who pushed Jorge?  (We want to know which person DID the action.)

     Whom did Pedro push?  (We want to know which person RECEIVED the action.)

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