It was X

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Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "It me, your father."

See also
"I really don't care whom", 4/17/2004
"An accusative person in a nominative world", 8/23/2010
"Patterns of prestigious deviance", 10/3/2011
"Screwball reasons and gloriously simple distinctions", 11/3/2014


  1. Brett said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:17 am

    Do you get your xkcd a day late?

  2. Robert Coren said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:20 am

    Since this isn't a link to the actual comic, could you please tell us what the mouseover text is? (It's often the best part.)

  3. It was X • Zhi Chinese said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:21 am

    […] Source: Language It was X […]

  4. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:40 am

    Mouseover: It me, your father.

  5. Eli Nelson said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 11:25 am

    Actually, "It was I who…" doesn't seem to be archaic. Or at least, it's held out much longer than "It was I." The following relative pronoun has an effect; in fact, you can even hear "[nominative] who" in places where it not licensed by the traditional rules such as "Let he who…"

  6. Bill Benzon said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

    It's me, it's me, oh Lord! standing in the need of prayer….

  7. gribley said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 12:17 pm

    It is not widely known that years of arguments like this led directly to Yoda's syntactical breakdown.

  8. BZ said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 3:03 pm

    That reminds me that in one of the Jewish translations of the Bible "he who…" is used as a direct object (usually the He is God, as in "give thanks to He who created the world"). That clearly sounds wrong, but then "him who" sounds wrong too. Not sure how to fix it.

  9. David L said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 4:26 pm

    give thanks to That Guy who…

  10. Stan said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 4:26 pm

    "It was I who" is definitely archaic. It was uttered by some 90 year old wrinkly-faced emperor who could shoot electric rays from his hands. The only other person you see doing that is Count Dooku, who is like 60 years old. Ugh. Woe is me.

  11. David Morris said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 5:08 pm

    Bearing in mind the usual limitations of Google Ngrams, it shows that there has been a considerable rise in 'it was me' since about 1970, to the point where it is (just) more common than 'it was I', which has remained steady. At the same time, 'it is me' has risen only slightly, and is still less used than 'it is I'.

  12. Chris said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 6:00 pm

    But if you also add "it's me" to that last comparison, you can see that it has also risen considerably since about 1970, and has been significantly more popular than "it is I" since the end of the nineteenth century.
    (I don't think we even need to bother adding "it's I" to the comparison)

  13. Chris said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 6:03 pm

    Oops, I meant "it's me" has been more popular than "it is me" since the nineteenth century. It only rises above "it is I" around 1990.

  14. Chris said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 6:06 pm

    The ngram graph of all four "it is/it's I/me" options is a nice demonstration of how different registers of language have different grammatical rules:

  15. David P said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 7:38 pm

    Adding up the ngram "It's me"s and "It is I"s, it looks like people talked about themselves relatively little from 1940 to about 1970. But now we're almost back to 1900 levels.

  16. Xmun said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:26 pm

    "Him … who" is right, and was notably used in a splendid passage in Book I of Paradise Lost. See lines 44ff.:

    Him the almighty power
    Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
    With hideous ruin and combustion down
    To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
    In adamantine chains and penal fire,
    Who durst defy the omnipotent to arms.

    Look at all those adjuncts (if that's the right word) between the relative pronoun and its antecedent.

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:27 pm

    Eli Nelson is right: 'It is I who …' is not archaic, and Randall muffed this one.
    In fact until reading this I never even considered that 'It is me who …' might be grammatical. Certainly, the object-pronoun versions sound less bad with 'that' instead of 'who': It was me that allowed, give thanks to him that created.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  18. Andrew Usher said,

    December 13, 2016 @ 10:31 pm


    I don't see how your example is relevant, since 'him' is the object of the transitive verb 'hurled', and the addition of a relative clause doesn't change that.

  19. Sevly said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 1:51 am

    Well, I think that "It is I who […]" is definitely archaic, but I agree that Randall (perhaps deliberately) gets the reasoning wrong here. This one is less about the choice of pronoun and more about the fact that "It is X who […]" is outdated in general: a modern speaker would almost certainly say "X is the one who […]" instead. But then from there, "It's me who […]" sounds even wronger because of the inconsistent application of the modern and archaic styles, and from my read that too is part of the joke.

  20. philip said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 4:45 am

    I honestly had a US proof-reading friend over on a visit, and when I asked the assembled table, 'Does anyone want tea?' she replied (without a blush), 'Not I.'

    But then again this individual is prone to hypercorrection.

  21. Michael said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 5:20 am

    BZ: A Jewish (???) translation (???) of the Bible? Dah?

  22. George said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 5:21 am

    @Andrew Usher
    The issue is "Him… Who durst defy…", not Him the object of the celestial eviction.

  23. George said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 5:23 am

    IOW, Xmun is no xmuck…

  24. Graeme said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 5:54 am

    Philip. 'Not I' lives on thanks to the kiddy's story of The Little Red Hen.

  25. Ned said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 6:08 am

    When I was in about the 6th grade back in the mid-1950's in Milwaukee, the whole class sang the following song, one part for the boys and one for the girls:

    Boys (sung as rapidly as possible):
    It's me! it's me! it's me! said Barnacle Bill the Sailor

    followed by the girls (sung very slowly, and as "sweetly" as possible):
    You must always say it's I, you must always say it's I, said the fair young lady.

    But I think even then we kids realized that the song was not to be taken seriously. Not sure about the teacher, however.

  26. Ron Hardin said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 7:01 am

    I'd claim it's a cleft sentence, not a sentence with a relative clause.

    The correct version is "It is I that …" (not who).

  27. philip said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 7:07 am

    Graeme – is it not from Who Killed Cock Robin? Either way that is no excuse to bring it to my kitchen table :):)

    'Not (for) me,' is what I would except from a native speaker of English.

  28. boynamedsue said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 9:01 am

    I find it hard to imagine anyone ever saying "It is/was I…" with the exception of Monsieur Le Clerc from 'Allo 'Allo. And I've definitely heard 'It was me WHAT' more often than 'It was I who/that'.

  29. Johan P said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

    "It is I, Mario!"

  30. Rodger C said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    "give thanks to He who created the world"

    Already an issue in 1611: "But whom say ye that I am?"

  31. Ben Zimmer said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

    "It me," by the way, is a popular online meme these days — see, e.g., here.

  32. DWalker07 said,

    December 14, 2016 @ 2:20 pm


    I don't see how your example is relevant, since 'him' is the object of the transitive verb 'hurled', and the addition of a relative clause doesn't change that."

    No, I think "him" was hurled. Hurled etc. is an adjectival clause thing, further describing him.

  33. dcrane said,

    December 16, 2016 @ 3:14 am

    "Are these the droids you're looking for?"

    "Those are they."

  34. Keith said,

    December 16, 2016 @ 4:05 am


    I remember it as

    It's only me from over the sea, said Barnacle Bill the Sailor

    Oh will you lie upon my bed, will you lie upon my bed,
    Oh will you lie upon my bed said the fair young maiden.

    But that is probably not the version that you would have been singing in sixth grade. Is that about 11 years old?

  35. Xmun said,

    December 19, 2016 @ 3:26 pm

    @Andrew Usher
    I was responding to BZ's comment of 3.03 pm on 13 December, not the main discussion on the xkcd cartoon. I should have introduced my response with an "@BZ".

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