What is the Subjective Case?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

subjective case - walrus
The following brief quotation contains two pronouns in the subjective (or nominative) case: "I am he," said the walrus. I functions as the subject of the sentence; he functions as the subject complement.

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In English grammar, subjective case is the case of a pronoun when it functions as one of the following:

The subjective (or nominative) forms of English pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who and whoever. (Note that you and it have the same forms in the objective case.)

The subjective case is also known as the nominative case.

Examples and Observations

  • "My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it."
    (Mark Twain)
  • "I had a friend who was a clown. When he died, all his friends went to the funeral in one car."
    (Steven Wright)
  • "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."
    (Edward R. Murrow)
  • "I heard a scream and I didn't know if it was me who screamed or not--if it was I who screamed."
    (Olivia de Haviland in The Snake Pit, 1948)
  • "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
    (movie title, 1969)
  • "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause."
    (Theodore Roosevelt, speech at the Sorbonne, April 23, 1910)

    Subjective Case Usage Notes

    • "In conversation, you may sometimes use objective case forms of pronouns when formal written grammar requires subjective case forms. For example, in responding to a question such as 'Are you Carmela Shiu?' you might answer, 'Yes, that's me,' rather than 'Yes, that's I.' Me sounds more natural because that form of the pronoun is used more often in speech. However, I is grammatically correct in this instance."​
      (Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II, The Scribner Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed., Allyn and Bacon, 2001)
    • "The subjective case is used after the words than and as because of the understood (although unstated) portion of the clauses in which these words appear.
      George is as good a designer as I [am].
      Our subsidiary can do the job better than we [can]."
      (Gerald J. Alred et al., The Business Writer's Handbook, 10th ed. Macmillan, 2011)
    • "If the subjective case sounds stilted, as perhaps it does in John has dated girls taller than she, enough of the elliptical clause can be supplied to make it obvious that than is functioning as a conjunction and that the subjective case is required. Usually this means simply adding a form of the verb do, be, or have. [Thus we'd write, 'John has dated girls taller than she is.']"
      (Edward D. Johnson, The Handbook of Good English. Washington Square Press, 1991)
    • "There is no distinction between the nominative [subjective] and objective form of it, nor of you (though historically the nominative form was ye, as in the archaic expression Hear ye, hear ye)."
      (Laurel J. Brinton, The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic Introduction. John Benjamins, 2000)

    The Lighter Side of the Subjective Case

    • St. Peter was standing at the Pearly Gates watching an assistant check in new arrivals. The assistant had a roster and was calling out names as the spirits lined up."James Robertson," he read off, and a fellow said, "I'm him." Then he read "William Bumgarner," and another fellow said, "That's me." Then he read, "Gladys Humphreys," and a woman answered, "I am she." St. Peter leaned over and whispered to his assistant, "Another damn schoolteacher." (Loyal Jones and Billy Edd Wheeler, Curing the Cross-Eyed Mule: Appalachian Mountain Humor. August House, 1989)

      Pronunciation: sub-JEK-tiv