Leila - December 10th
Traditional grammar requires the nominative form of the pronoun in the predicate of the verb be: It is I (not me); That must be they (not them), and so forth. Nearly every speaker of Modern English finds this rule difficult to follow. Even if everyone could follow it, in informal contexts the nominative pronoun often sounds pedantic and even ridiculous, especially when the verb is contracted, as in It's we. But constructions like It is me have been condemned in the classroom and in writing handbooks for so long that there seems little likelihood that they will ever be entirely acceptable in formal writing.
The traditional rule creates additional problems when the pronoun following be also functions as the object of a verb or preposition in a relative clause, as in It is not them/they that we have in mind when we talk about "crime in the streets" nowadays, where the plural pronoun serves as both the predicate of is and the object of have. In this example, 57 percent of the Usage Panel prefers the nominative form they, 33 percent prefer the objective them, and 10 percent accept both versions. Writers can usually revise their sentences to avoid this problem: They are not the ones we have in mind, We have someone else in mind, and so on.
In place of the inflected forms of be, such as is and are, used in Standard English, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and some varieties of Southern American English may use zero copula or an invariant be, as in He be working, instead of the Standard English He is usually working. As an identifying feature of the vernacular of many African Americans, invariant be in recent years has been frequently seized on by writers and commentators trying to imitate or parody Black speech. However, most imitators use it simply as a substitute for is, as in John be sitting in that chair now, without realizing that within AAVE, invariant be is used primarily for habitual or extended actions set in the present. Among African Americans the form is most commonly used by working-class speakers and young persons.
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