Linguistic prescriptivism – starting to think about report 3


1. Choose a stigmatized construction from the list:

“It’s me!” (not on the list!)


2. Find information about it in a range of reference books

·       easier to find specific lexical items in dictionaries, e.g.

o     different from/to/than (OED, different, a. 1b)

o     its (OED, its, poss. pron.)

o     less “a smaller number of, fewer” (OED, less a. (n.), adv., and conj A 1c)

o     like “as if” (OED, like, a. adv. (conj.) n.2, 6e)

o     me “for the subjective pronoun I: predicative” (OED, me, pron.1, n., and a. 5d)

§       but “It’s me” is like “It’s her” and “This is he” … where do you stop?


·       grammatical information isn’t always in desk dictionaries

o     for instance, there’s no specific information relating to it’s me in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary under be or I or me


Different grammars and usage books may classify the same feature in different places

·       alphabetical dictionaries of usage

o     under I in Cambridge Guide to English Usage

o     under I, me in Cassell Dictionary of English Usage

o     under it’s me in Columbia Guide to Standard American English

o     under it’s me and me (and x-ref in pronouns) in Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage

·       writing handbooks

o     under “pronouns” in Canadian Writer’s Guide, Harbrace

·       traditional grammars

o     In the Comprehensive Grammar of the English language: chapter “Pronouns” under ”case forms”/”subjective and objective cases”

§       CP used the index

·       historical grammars (e.g. Jespersen)

o     In the second volume on syntax, in a chapter on “predicatives”, in a section called “Final words on predicatives”

§       CP used index: pronoun -> case -> in predicative


Obvious problem: You will find the construction easier to find if you know what is supposed to be wrong with it!

·       solution: start by blitzing sources designed for laypeople

o     writing handbooks, usage manuals

o     in a good library: Robarts 4th floor

·       reassurance:

o     the majority of the class haven’t learned much traditional grammar formally,

o     the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English language is a very good guide to elementary grammar

o     I’m happy to talk to you at any stage of your report writing.


3. How is your construction labeled? Classify and interpret!

o      opposed to “theoretically”

o      opposed to “correct”

o      in same chapter as “do not” and “avoid”

o      “nonstandard”, not “Standard Formal”

o      opposed to “traditional”

o      “informal”

o      “conversational”

o      “acceptable”

o      in context with “actually”

4. Collect and classify explanations for why your construction has been labeled as ‘wrong’ (etc.).


We use the subject form (she, I) when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence.


S                 V          O

I                  wrote          a book.

He               baked          a cake.


Verbs like be connect the subject of the sentence and its complement


S                 V          SC

Fifi             is           a professor.            noun

She             is           competitive                adjective

The winners          were          (she/her) and Biff

It                 is          (I/me)


Pronouns should agree with their antecedents, so both the subject and the subject complement should be in the same subjective case


S                 V          SC

It                 is          I



This rule is characteristic of statusful and inflectional languages like Latin.

5. Collect and classify explanations for the existence and/or the persistence of your construction. Historical sources might/not be relevant here.


o      French: it’s me is parallel with c’est moi (much less likely)


o      Word position: speakers unconsciously divide sentences into “subject territory”, before the verb, and associate it with subject pronouns


He     loves          fluffy bunnies

She   is an electrician


“Object territory” comprises the verb and everything after it, and is associated with object pronouns


          loves me

          is me


6. Has your construction used extensively in the past? What arguments can be made from its non-/use? From the demographics of its users? Interpret info like the following:


Both appear in Shakespeare’s TN

o      “That’s mee I warrant you”, “If this should be thee Maluolio”

o      “I knew ‘twas I


Both used by men of education

o      e.g. Samuel Pepys, “thinking verily it had been her” (diary)

o      e.g. Richard Steele: “it is not me you are in love with” (Spectator)


Subject form used by high-class characters in early drama

o      it was I

o      By Heavens, ‘tis she

7.  Collect and classify information about the modern distribution of your construction (linguistic, social)


It occurs more frequently in some kinds of linguistic contexts.

o      when the pronoun is final: It’s me

o      in spoken language


It occurs more frequently in some kinds of social contexts

o      in casual speech

o      when you know the speaker


It occurs less frequently in some kinds of social contexts

o      formal writing

o      oratorical speech


It occurs less frequently in some kinds of linguistic contexts

o      in a ‘cleft sentence’ / before a following relative clause introduced by who

o     it’s I who suggested it

o     it is we who must shoulder the burden

o      its grammatical function is less clear when the relative clause is objective

o     it was she/her that John criticized

§       It was she …

§       John criticized her …


8. Collect and classify and interpret information about the construction’s acceptability

o      not in oratorical speech or formal writing

o      in all contexts

o      a matter of style, not a matter of correctness

o     I: “more formal or more stuffy situations”, “gives a stilted impression”

o     me: “real and fictional speech, a more relaxed writing style”