If I were he/him, I would go

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Karmele3, Mar 24, 2008.

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  1. Karmele3 Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    In second conditional sentences I always have to stop to think about which the right choice is: he or him?

    If I were he/him (?), I would go.

    Can anyone help me out?

  2. cutiepie1892

    cutiepie1892 Senior Member

    Northern Ireland English
  3. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Sorry to disagree, but in standard English or formal contexts this should be:

    If I were he, I would go.

    After a form of "to be", a pronoun that refers to the subject (I, in this example) should also be in the subject form (I; you; he, she, it; we; they).

    Nonetheless, in spoken English, many people would prefer to use him.

    Edit: Here is a link to a discussion of "it's me" that covers the related issue of the uses of "me" where "I" would be expected in formal contexts.
  4. Karmele3 Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Thanks Cagey, that´s what I found on the internet.

    Do you think we could have the following rule?

    Spoken English: If I were him/her/them
    Written English: If I were he/she/they

    More opinions, please, I can find nothing in my grammar manuals.
  5. nahash Member


    Saying that IF I WERE HE is from standard English how about if it's pertaining to a Female..would it be correct if i'll say IF I WERE SHE?:)
  6. zuckerman New Member

    United Kingdom English

    I have never heard or seen the use of ' he ' in this context. I am no grammar expert, but isn't this because the pronoun is actually referring to the object of the verb ' to be ' ;hence the use of ' him '?
  7. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    The rule you propose is sensible. I think the link I added above will be helpful, along with other opinions, of course.
  8. Karmele3 Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    I´m not sure we can say that the verb "to be" can have an "object".

    I´m still unsure about which one is the right option

    If I were he/him, I would go
    If I were she/her, I would go

    More opinions welcome!!! Grammar is fascinating!!
  9. cutiepie1892

    cutiepie1892 Senior Member

    Northern Ireland English
    Is this for use in writing or in conversation?
  10. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    The verb "to be" is a "copulative verb" and doesn't take an object. That is, "to be" establish states or conditions.

    Transitive verbs, the verbs that in some sense affect something else, take objects.

    So: I am he (or she).
    But: I hit him (or her).

    (Yes, Nahash, the pronoun will be she if the speaker is female.)
  11. Karmele3 Senior Member

    Spanish - Spain
    Thanks everybody!
  12. zuckerman New Member

    United Kingdom English
    I did say I was no grammar expert!!

    Thanks, that is very interesting. I have now looked up copular verbs and understand the concept.

    Going back to the original question, I still believe that the correct use of 'he' in this context is more or less unknown; I think it seems rather archaic. I think it is one of those cases where usage has drifted away from what is technically correct. I think the explanation may well be that most native speakers and writers, if challenged, would offer the same explanation I did in my first post.
  13. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Clearly it is not known to all; that is why the question was asked in the first place!:)

    Nevertheless, the correct usage is that the case of pronouns that are linked to other pronouns or to nouns throught the use of copulative verbs is the nominative case.

    It doesn't seem archaic to me at all. For my part, I would say that "If I were him" sounds odd, rather like "Me am going to the store."

    I believe you are correct. I think that most native speakers, if challenged, would certainly say about themselves "I am no grammar expert" ... ;)
  14. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    "I am no grammar expert" .

    Surely language is a living entity, and both usage and rules change over the years. Something of the order of "I am he" strikes as so artificial today.
  15. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    Yes, but the rules for written language and spoken language often (usually?) vary. If the person is asking what is acceptable in written English, "I am he/If I were he" is the current standard for written English. Saying that they constantly change is a truism; when it comes to specifics, there is a "right" and a "wrong" answer to this specific question, according to most, if not all, written English standards.

    That may change. Until it does, though, it will still get marked wrong on English papers and tests.
  16. Pticru Senior Member

    U.S.-- English
    Wait, I'm no grammar expert, but isn't "I'm he" a bit like saying "It's I" rather than "It's me". I mean try all the combinations: "I'm I"??

    No! I'm me!!! But if I were I....
  17. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    Actually, "It's I" is the correct written form, Pticru. Once again, spoken English and written English vary here. What I most commonly hear is "It is me" or "It's me", but it should be written as "It is I" on an English test or in an English paper.

    See Cagey's post above for an excellent description and a link to a related discussion.

    As one source I Googled put it, "I am" refers back to "I" as a state of being or an attribute of "I" while other verbs would refer to an object of the verb, as in:

    I hit him. :tick:
    I am him. :cross:

    I think this shows the logical problem with "I am him". If you replace "him" with a title, it becomes obvious how "I am" operates differently from "I hit":

    I hit the president.
    I am the president.

    In the first sentence, there is another person involved who is the president. In the second, "I" and "the president" are one and the same.
  18. Pticru Senior Member

    U.S.-- English
    By the way, this may be where the rules of existential philosophy start to override those of grammar...
  19. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    Someone knocks at a door:

    A: Who is it?
    B: It's we.

    All those who think "It's we" sounds correct will have no problem accepting that there is no choice in such situations.

    All those who immediately want to change that to "It's us" will have no problems breaking grammatical rules that do not always match what works in real life.

    The rest of us, who sense a war going on at all times between logic and practical usage, will try to rephrase. ;)

    (My answer is not entirely serious, but I am trying to make a point. There have been many threads that have fought over such questions for pages without coming to any definite conclusion.)
  20. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    If English, as a language, can be desribed as following the rules, then surely the rules should apply world-wide; but they don't! In fact I wonder who makes the rules, and by what authority? Why can we accept variation in spelling between English speaking countries, but not variation in usage?
  21. Pticru Senior Member

    U.S.-- English
    Ok JamesM, but "If I were you" works fine because the "you" is the same no matter whether it is subject or object... but try "If I were I..." Does that work? Or "if you were I..."? Bizarre.
  22. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    "If you were I" is 100% correct.

    I wouldn't say it, but it is grammatcially correct, and no one could say otherwise. :)
  23. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    "If I were I" is a logical fallacy. It sounds odd no matter how you say it: "If he were he/him", "If they were they/them".

    As for "If you were I" sounding bizarre, it's only "bizarre" if you've only been exposed to people saying, "If you were me". "If you were I, what would you do?" is something that I've heard from people who have had quite a bit of education in English. I agree that it's unusual, but I tend to think that it's simply a case of most English speakers I know receiving very little training in the grammar of their own language.

    Grammar has been de-emphasized in the U.S. public school system for nearly thirty years now in favor of literature and composition (minus grammar.) My son, who is not the most knowledgeable in grammar, is constantly correcting simple English grammar mistakes in the handouts his teachers have prepared, especially from his English teacher, ironically.

    {*end of rant*}

    As for gaer's "it is we", I know that it's correct to say it that way, but I do admit that I would probably avoid it with most people because it would sound odd to them. However, if I were starting a sentence that way in a paper, I would write, "It is we who are responsible for the education our children are receiving", for example, rather than "It is us who are responsible for the education our children are receiving." "It's us" sounds fine by itself, but "It's us who..." is wrong and sounds wrong to me.
  24. Pticru Senior Member

    U.S.-- English
    If you were I you were playing in the snow yesterday.
  25. Pticru Senior Member

    U.S.-- English
    Grammar has to be capable of expressing logical fallacies too! That's why I made the above post referring to existential philosophy...

    I know it's the grammar of another language (one heavily influencing English) but in French, you cannot say "If I were he", you have to say "If I were him" ("Si j'étais lui..."). Just interesting to note, no matter what the eventual rule might be in English.
  26. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    This seems like we might be venturing off-topic, but since it includes "if you were I..."

    I believe this would be expressed as:

    "If you had been I/me, you would have been playing in the snow yesterday."


    "Had you been I/me, you would have been playing in the snow yesterday."


    "If you were I/me, you would be playing in the snow today."

    The past subjunctive in this case gives me trouble. :) I would be happy to be corrected on it. The second one is correct, I'm fairly sure. The first is not something I would normally encounter.
  27. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    (I think in this case our sense of context tells us that we are in "informal" mode.)

    This would be totally wrong, in my opinion:

    "It is us who are responsible for the education our children are receiving."

    In a more informatl situation (referring to speech rather than writing), I would simply rephrase:

    "We are responsible for the education our children are receiving, and it's time we took responsibility." :)
  28. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    Yes, but the rule is different for German, is it not? It is "I am I" (Ich bin ich), not "I am me" (Ich bin mich). It is another language that heavily influenced English.

    The "rule" in English is clear. The "practice" in spoken English often doesn't follow the "rule" in this case.
  29. KHS

    KHS Senior Member

    I believe that the use of nominative case to the right of be in:

    If I were he...

    is one of those rules imposed by grammarians when they used a Latin model to construct the first grammars of English.

    As a result, a structure external to English was imposed at the scholarly level, and has now become to some degree internalized in academic and professional environments.

    Imagine that you and a friend are driving along, and suddenly there is a huge noise very close to your car - in fact, you wonder if it might have been your car.

    "Was that we?" you theoretically say to your passenger. (And I'd like to know the last time ANYONE uttered that sentence.)

    However, as a professor of English as a second language, I am in a bind. I need people who call me on the phone to know I know the rules. On the other hand, the artificiality of the structure feels...well...idiotic to use.

    I look for ways to avoid it altogether.

    Of course, the subjunctive "If I were..." (also referred to as 'unreal condition,' depending on what kind of grammar you are using as a reference) is rapidly disappearing from use even in print...probably because the difference between simple past and past subjunctive is apparent only in the verb BE.

  30. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

  31. Pticru Senior Member

    U.S.-- English
    Brilliant! Thanks KHS.
  32. iskndarbey Senior Member

    Lima, Perú
    US, English
    This topic comes up every few days on this board, and the resultant threads generally get hijacked by those intent upon proselytizing for the cause of "It is I". In my experience, modern usage is probably 95% "If I were him" and 5% "If I were he", both written and spoken, in every register and every English speaking country. This is roughly born out by Google. The 5% who insist on using "he" seem to be constantly on the look-out for any opportunity to pontificate about how their grammar is so much better and more logical than the unwashed masses'. I urge learners of English to use the forms the vast majority of the people around them will use, in order to avoid sounding stuck-up and high-falutin'.
  33. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Every now and then it is important to air the I/me, he/him discusssion. It is a little different every time, but one common feature is that those on either side do not change their views. That's fine.
    Occasionally, the discussion simply fades out due to exhaustion.
    Sometimes it falls to someone,to conclude the discussion.
    This time it's me.
    I'm sorry if this appears to be an inappropriate point at which to call a halt.
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