I Who Is.

Anatoly wrote me about a line that bothered him in Leigh Hunt’s “Jenny Kissed Me” (1838): “Time, you thief, who love to get [Sweets into your list].” He said:

I always felt that “love” in the third line jars my ear, and never understood why “love”, not “loves to get”. What do you think?

I responded: “It seems natural to me — after all, ‘you (who) love’ is perfectly grammatical whether ‘you’ is singular or plural,” and he said:

I think you’ve seized on the vital part – to me, “you who love” is a little strange and awkward. But then, so is “you who loves”, probably because it brings the pronoun and the -s ending so close together – “time, you thief, who loves to get” sounds completely natural to me. This could just be one of my non-native failings, of course, but I’m not certain it is.

I found this interesting conversation that hints at a wide shift of the role of “who”. As one of the first comments there succinctly states, “The grammar of the pronoun ‘who’ has changed for many people so that it inherits number but not person from its antecedent: it now has (for them) a fixed third-person number (thus ‘you who has’, ‘I who is’).”

That describes me to a tee: I definitely prefer “you who has” and “I who is” to “you who have” (non-grammatical!) and “I who am” (perhaps grammatical, but exceedingly formal). It’d be interesting to see if many native speakers share this intuition.

I said:

Wow. That’s completely alien to me; clearly, I’m falling ever farther behind the mutating language. To me, “I who is” sounds completely un-English, something a beginning learner would come up with.

So of course I’m turning the question over to the Varied Reader: are you one of those for whom the grammar of who has changed “so that it inherits number but not person from its antecedent”? Do you accept “you who has” and “I who is”? Needless to say, I have no desire to stigmatize such forms as “wrong”; if substantial numbers of English speakers accept them, then they’re good English in that dialect. I’m just curious how widespread this is.

Addendum. I had said to Anatoly “An interesting parallel: I still can’t really feel comfortable with the Russian plural pronoun + singular verb, e.g. те, кто работает [literally ‘they who works’]. I know it’s right, but it feels so wrong…” He responded:

I think both singular and plural forms of the verb are common nowadays, e.g. I found this. I stumble on such constructions every now and then when writing posts, and when thinking about it deliberately I always opt for the plural. If I try to turn the phrase in my mind, the singular does feel wrong to me; but it might be through contamination with other languages, I have, after all, been living outside the Russian linguistic environment for more than half my life by now.

It’s likely that, without thinking about it, I might spontaneously generate sentences such as “те, кто хочет избежать этого, …” [they who wants to avoid that], nor do I hear anything wrong in one of the slogans of my childhood, “Только тех, кто любит труд, октябрятами зовут” [Only they who loves work are called Little Octobrists]. So yes, the singular verb is fine and is possibly more idiomatic in various natural contexts; I started this reply thinking I’d assure you that the plural always feels better to me, but I find that isn’t actually the case, it’s only the “analytical” me who finds (heh) it more correct.

My response: “Fascinating! I’ll bet all languages have this kind of subtle weirdness that sometimes bothers even native speakers.”


  1. I, who am thirty-five, share your preference, but maybe not as strongly.

  2. So rejection is correlated with age (n = 2).

  3. Loob’s post is more or less spot on for me. That is, (copying their examples) formal register:

    It is I who am tired.
    It is you who are tired.
    It is she who is tired.

    But informal/spoken:

    It’s me who’s tired.
    It’s you who’s tired.
    It’s you all who’re tired. (Doesn’t sound fluent to me if it were singular)

  4. Looking for more examples of “I who [does]”, I found a song by Bobby Bird in two different vinyl releases:

    “It’s I Who Loves You (Not Him Anymore)” (1970) (the title on the page has “Love”, but look at the picture)

    “It’s I Who Love You (Not Him Anymore)” (1971)

    I wonder what the story behind *that* was…

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    It should optimally be “time, thou thief, who lovest to get …” “Who loveth” would be Just Plain Wrong. But the general abandonment of second-person-singular-specific forms of English verbs hath left everyone hopelessly confused.

  6. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I think the original line feels odd because if you take out the part in the commas, you’re left with something that doesn’t work at all – ‘time who love to get’. Of course, that isn’t the form of the sentence, but it might be, and so you get that garden path jarring.

    I certainly couldn’t say ‘I who has’ all in a row like that, but once you get into something like ‘I, the founder of this company, who [has|have] seen it grow from the beginning…’, it’s not obvious to me whether to agree with ‘I’ or with ‘the founder’.

  7. Andrej Bjelaković says

    Huh, interesting. This NNS strongly prefers “you who has” and “I who am” (NOT is).

  8. Martin Langeveld says

    Early versions of the poem have the line as: “Time, you thief! who love to get”. I’m understanding the part after “thief!” as: “[those of you] who love to get sweets into your list, put that in.” (“that” was italicized in those early versions, as well.) In other words, it is a command to a plural audience, as are the subsequent phrases that start with “say” and “add.”

  9. Jan Freeman says

    I’ve never really settled on a first-person choice on this one, and it’s even harder with the first person objective:

    “She even spoke harshly to me, who is/am her best friend.”

    Seems like one of those things English users just haven’t quite resolved (and maybe never will).

  10. John Cowan says

    For me who inherits person, but who am is ungrammatical for me (not for everyone) and is replaced by who is or avoided altogether, just as the contraction of am not I? is aren’t I? for me. See 2012, 2018, 2019 LH discussions of who am.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    I think John Cowan may be onto something re the weirdness of “who am” being am-specific. You could check that by seeing if people who balk at “I who am” also balk at “I who have” or find the latter natural and preferable to “I who has.”

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately, the less posh dialects of BrEng solve this problem by eschewing “who” as the relative pronoun, e.g. “Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman on you! It’s me wot has done it!”

  13. Bathrobe says

    Does anyone remember the song “I Who Have Nothing”?

    I, I who have nothing
    I, I who have no one
    Adore you, and want you so
    I’m just a no one,
    With nothing to give you but Oh
    I Love You

    So, no, it doesn’t sound strange to me at all.

  14. Ellen K. says

    For me, the line sounded strange on first read because I’m wanting “time”, rather than “you” to be the subject of “who love(s)”. The pair of commas makes “you thief” look like a parenthetical, leaving “Time…who love…”, which isn’t grammatical. Took some thinking about it to work out the grammar of it and realize how & why “who love” fits.

    As to the question, definitely not “you who has” or “I who is”. They totally don’t work for me.

    Reading the comments, Pc’s example “It’s me who’s tired.” sounds find. But so does “It’s me who am tired”. Depends on if wanting a contracted or uncontracted version.

    I would not say “It is I who is tired”, because I wouldn’t use “I” there. But where I would use I, it’s “am”:

    I, who am 50 years old, find “I who is” distinctly wrong.

    (An example and an opinion both.)

  15. David Marjanović says

    I thought fixed 3rd person is inherited and person agreement is Latinate – see Latin and French qui es in the Lord’s Prayer.

    German has fixed 3rd person plus number agreement with relative pronouns, but avoids the situation with the 1st person by rewording (“I who is X” > “I am X, and therefore I…”) except in the archaizing register, where it’s doubled up with another personal pronoun with which the verb then agrees (ich, der ich X bin).

    Incidentally, in my kinds of German the indefinite pronouns are strictly masculine singular; to create an explicit feminine, they have to be replaced by “one”. Elsewhere, one of them is strictly neuter singular…

  16. David Marjanović says

    Oh. Wait.

    It is I who am tired.

    In this kind of construction, we double the relative pronoun up with a 3rd-person demonstrative one, with gender & number agreement.

    Literary to archaizing:

    Ich bin jener, welcher müde ist.
    Du bist jene(r), welche(r) müde ist.
    Sie ist jene, welche müde ist.
    Wir sind jene, welche müde sind.
    Ihr seid jene, welche müde sind.
    Sie sind jene, welche müde sind.


    Ich bin der, der müde ist.
    Du bist der/die, der/die müde ist.
    Sie ist die, die müde ist.
    Wir sind die, die müde sind.
    Ihr seid die, die müde sind.
    Sie sind die, die müde sind.

    It’s me who’s tired.

    Also I’m the one who’s tired.

  17. David Marjanović says

    “She even spoke harshly to me, who is/am her best friend.”

    “She even spoke harshly to me, her best friend.”
    “She even spoke harshly to me, and I’m her best friend!”

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    To Ellen’s point I would again say that “Time, who lovest …” would be perfectly grammatical if a bit archaic. You don’t need a second-person pronoun to have second-person inflection on verbs; you just need direct address. One problem here is that directly addressing abstractions like “Time” in the second person is not something commonly done outside of poetry, so our native-speaker intuitions may be underdeveloped if we aren’t deeply immersed in the relevant sort of poetry.

    But again my own intuitions are very uncertain about what happens when you de-archaicize the syntax in that sort of construction. Since “thou lovest” reduces to “you love” rather than “you loves” it would seem to follow that “[thou] who lovest” should reduce to “[you] who love” rather than “[you] who loves”, but maybe that doesn’t actually follow smoothly, because somehow neither “who love” or “who loves” feels fully satisfactory to me in direct address. I find it fascinating that a few centuries after thou/thee were marginalized we still may not have completely cleaned up all the details of the transition.

    One further oddity here is that we use “you” in both second-person singular and second-person plural, but in plural there is no contrast between second and third persons in verbal inflection. So in a construction (admittedly again poetic and archaic) like “Come all ye jolly sailor boys who to the sea belong” we don’t have to choose between a second-person and third-person form of the verb.

  19. Bathrobe says


    Formal register certainly screws things up for English. What a train wreck of a language.

  20. CuConnacht says

    When they first started saying the Catholic Mass in the vernacular, many English speakers objected to the “You who’s” in the early translations of the Gloria as not sounding natural:

    You who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
    you who take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
    you who are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

    They now just omit the “who’s.”

  21. She even spoke harshly to me, who be her best friend

    That works nicely in Somerset.

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    The 1960’s were a dreadful time for translating liturgical Latin into idiomatic English. The Middle Ages were much better, e.g. “Lombe of god that dost awy the sinnis of the world haue merci on vs.” Spelled alternatively in another MS as “Lomb of god þat doost awey synnes of þe world : hue m’cy on vs.”

  23. @J.W. Brewer: The spelling “m’cy” looks like interesting evidence for Middle Ages non-rhoticism.

  24. I know, the call to a Varied Reader was about “you who has”, but I got interested in the distribution of “те, кто”. According to Russian National corpus in modern usage “те, кто” is overwhelmingly followed by a singular verb. This has to be corrected for relative usage of singular vs. plural, but c’mon. There are instances of plural, but my unscientific look-through found about 1-2 plurals out of 10. Surprisingly, it doesn’t make the whole sentence to switch into singular. In other words it is “кто” which is perceived as singular, not necessarily the subject of the main clause. Frinstance

    Те, кто вышел из дому, все погибли в этой ряби. А те, кто испугался или сообразил, что дело дрянь, те поначалу выжили.
    Those who got [sing.] out of a house, all died [pl.] in this shimmer. But those who was afraid [sing.] or figured out [sing] that it’s bad, those survived [pl.] in the beginning.
    (A & B Strugatsky. The doomed city)

    I even found a surprising example in Kropotkin, probably typo or mistake, but I could have not noticed it if my antennae were not up:
    Некоторое время большинство людей думало, а те, кто служил выразителями мыслей большинства, проповедовали etc.
    For some time, the majority of the people thought [pl.], and those who served [sing.] as exponents [pl.] of the thoughts of the majority promoted […] (from Bread and freedom)

    And it is not a late development, the earliest reference is to Filaret who uses singular in all instances of the text excerpted in the Corpus.

  25. Crawdad Tom says

    “You who has” and “I who is” are unacceptable to me, age 64, and I haven’t noticed them in my reading, listening, or editing. I remember the song “I Who Have Nothing,” and I think the structure is there for song-making purposes.

  26. @Bathrobe: “Does anyone remember the song “I Who Have Nothing”?”

    Not that I remember it from the old times but I have heard and seen, on YouTube, a video of Shirley Bassey singing it (wonderfully). The lyrics – from the early 1960s – is by Leiber and Stoller, based on an Italian original.

    It was the first thing that popped up in my mind, followed by

    O Love, who bewailest
    The frailty of all things here…

    As J. W. Brewer has perspicaciously remarked, “the general abandonment of second-person-singular-specific forms of English verbs hath left everyone hopelessly confused.”

  27. AJP Crown says

    Do you accept “you who has” and “I who is”?

    No. Never. Just plain wrong.
    Now I’m going to be singing Bathrobe’s song all day.

  28. Many thanks to Hat and commenters for the fascinating conversation.

    Going back to the original line, “Time, you thief, who love(s) to get // Sweets into your list, put *that* in”, I wonder now if I was too hasty to reduce it to “You who has”, “I who is” etc. Some people above commented that if you treat “you thief” as a parenthetical that can be taken out, the remainder is ungrammatical, but I guess what bothers me is, if you leave it in, “thief” seems to me to reassert a third person perspective *anyway*. So I’m still left wondering how native speakers who find the original line unobjectionable parse it.

    Consider these made-up examples:

    1. “David, meet John. He really likes your book!”
    1a. David (awkwardly): “Well, hello, John who really like(s) my book!”
    Later, 1b. David (even more awkwardly, trying to get attention): “Hey! Ahem. John who like(s) my book! I forgot to ask, would you like me to sign it?”

    My guess is that in 1a and 1b, everyone will prefer “likes” and find “like” ungrammatical.
    Even though it seems to be vocative (David is addressing a person by name), the second-person structure isn’t there.

    2a. “John, who loves reading science fiction, will tell us all about..”
    2b. “John, you love reading science fiction, tell us all about…”
    2c. “Well John, you, who love(s) reading science fiction, are exactly the person to tell us all about…”

    I think 2a and 2b are obvious. In 2c, I originally endorsed “you who loves”, but now want to go back and say that “you who love” sounds at least as good to me, probably better – and I think for many (most?) native speakers the only correct option.

    3. “Bill, you rascal who cheat(s) honest families out of their life savings, you will get your comeuppance one day!”

    Here I can’t say “cheat”, and the difference seems to be that “rascal” insists on being the head of the whole relative clause and so puts it into the third person. It’s “Bill, you [rascal [who cheats…]]”. Bill is a sort of rascal that cheats etc. I want to understand what those speakers who insist on “you who love” in 2c make of 3 – will they say “you rascal who cheat”?

    Now, consider “Time, you thief, who love(s) to get”. If “you thief” is just a parenthetical and can be taken out, then this sentence is like 1a/1b, and it should be “loves”. If on the other hand it’s a crucial part of the sentence, then the whole sentence is like 3, and “thief”, like “rascal” in 3, forces “loves”. Either way, it’s not like 2c, so (I think) I can agree with “you who love” in 2c but still feel bad about “love” here and find it difficult to parse. What do you think?

  29. I think the problem may be that vocative of a name plus relative clause is a really odd-sounding combination and not really used outside poetry.

    “All of you who have tickets, line up here.” Sounds fine.

    “John, who have a ticket, come here.” Sounds odd.

    You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! ⁠
    That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
    Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?”

    We just don’t address people as “NAME, [you] who X”. The usual form would be “NAME, you are X” then start a new sentence.

  30. David Marjanović says

    @J.W. Brewer: The spelling “m’cy” looks like interesting evidence for Middle Ages non-rhoticism.

    No, a kind of vertical tilde to abbreviate -er- seems to have been normal practice – check out this manuscript of the Nibelungenlied: 2nd line wnd’s (*wunders), 5th line wnd’ (*wunder), 7th line schon’s (*schœner(e)s).

    For some time, the majority of the people thought [pl.]


    “thief” seems to me to reassert a third person perspective *anyway*.

    That’s how it works in German. Evidently many Englishes prefer agreement with you instead.

    If so, that’s not the first such difference. German has neither “it is I” nor “it’s me”: the verb agrees in the other direction – ich bin es, literally “I am it”.

  31. PlasticPaddy says

    There is also “bist du das?”, although the answer “ich bin das” seems very funny to my ear and “das bin ich” a bit funny.

  32. AJP Crown says

    Anyone else who can’t get rid of this I (Who Have Nothing) in their head, might try playing a version by Joe Cocker that’s the least worst.

  33. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I, who am 50 years old, find “I who is” distinctly wrong

    I who am a quarter of a century older, agree.

  34. Rodger C says

    “I who am” and “you who are.” The use of “is” in either construction doesn’t even sound like native English to me. Age 72, from West Virginia, therefore neurotic about correctness.

    The Episcopal Church also tried the yoo-hoo Gloria. I asked my priest, who was on the liturgical commission, why not simply say “you that take …” He seemed to think that this was ridiculously ungrammatical–not the verb agreement, but the use of “that” for an animate referent..

  35. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    “Who say men that I am?”

    If “that” with a human referent (not just any old human either) was OK for the people who translated the King James version it’s OK for me.

  36. I know, the call to a Varied Reader was about “you who has”, but I got interested in the distribution of “те, кто”. According to Russian National corpus in modern usage “те, кто” is overwhelmingly followed by a singular verb. This has to be corrected for relative usage of singular vs. plural, but c’mon. […] And it is not a late development, the earliest reference is to Filaret who uses singular in all instances of the text excerpted in the Corpus.

    Of course the singular isn’t a late development, the whole point is that the singular is standard. It’s the plural that’s a late development, and it’s primarily spoken (like all new forms), which is why you won’t find it much in the corpus of published literature. And I was hoping someone would talk about “те, кто” — that’s why I added it to the post!

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    “That” instead of “who” doesn’t seem that archaic with “you.” E.g. “For all of you that come to see us every year when we perform in NYC – I want to make sure you know the venue has changed” or (perhaps in a vaguely more poetic or high-toned register) “You that come here under the heavy load of the guilt of sin, O come in, and get pardoning grace: God’s indemnity is offered unto you.” But is it significant that both of those seem to be plural-you rather than singular-you?

    OTOH, most American Christians who use an “old-fashioned” version of the Lord’s Prayer use an updated one that keeps “thy” and “art” etc but has silently updated “them that trespass” to “those who trespass.”

  38. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately on “updating” liturgical English: The trouble with fixing the “yoo-hoo” awkwardness by eliminating the “who” and not replacing it is that e.g. “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world” seems like something you would generally only say, from a Gricean maxims perspective, if you were adding salient new information to the discourse, i.e. if you thought the Lamb of God were Himself previously unaware that he had this sin-removal capability and thus needed to be brought up to speed about it by His worshipers. YMMV, but that strikes me as a rather presumptuous attitude to take. Maybe there are other ways to grok that sort of construction in other contexts. E.g. if you say “well, you’re the boss” to someone who is, in fact, your boss, that for me carries no implicature that he doesn’t already know he’s your boss; rather, you’re doing something else with the construction. But whatever’s going on in that sort of context doesn’t work naturally for me in the liturgical context.

  39. AJP Crown says

    Roger C: [The Episcopal priest, who was on the liturgical commission] seemed to think that this was ridiculously ungrammatical [the use of “that” for an animate referent]

    I wouldn’t do it either, but how about the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, “Our father, which art in Heaven…”?

  40. Rodger C says

    AJP Crown: I suspect that the priest (who was from Terre Haute) perceived animate “that” as an old-fashioned regionalism.

  41. Of course the singular isn’t a late development, the whole point is that the singular is standard.

    That’s not how I’ve read Anatoly’s opinion, but never mind. The other way around is not a late development either. I (meaning, corpus) can give you examples from Tolstoy onward and probably earlier. This ambivalence existed in edited Russian for quite some time. If anything, it seems that later 20th century writing skewed toward singular a bit harder. And plural seems to be more frequent with bare verbs vs. verb phrases.

  42. AJP Crown says

    Well to be honest, I’m not sure I don’t perceive animate “that” as an old-fashioned regionalism though I see that JW manages to use it artfully (but he’s a lawyer, so QED.)

  43. silently updated “them that trespass” to “those who trespass.”

    Growing up in a fairly rural area, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer every day at the beginning of primary school, I remember being puzzled by our heavenly father’s overriding concern about trespassing. Then again, there were “no trespassing” signs in various places around the towns and villages, so perhaps it was reasonable to implore good Christians not to go poking around in other people’s fields. Except for scrumping apples, which was allowed by common practice, or at least overlooked. Possibly there was a holy exception for that, in some part of the bible we hadn’t come across.

  44. As long as the apple wasn’t proffered by a serpent.

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    I try to alternate between commenting perspicaciously and commenting artfully, just to cover all the bases.

  46. ə de vivre says

    I have differing judgments about PRONOUN who VERB constructions depending on the verb. With an “it is X who BE” construction I share pc’s preferences: it’s me who’s > it is me who is ~ it is I who am > *it is I who is. Probably something similar to what’s going on when I say “there’s lots of reasons…” in spontaneous speech rather than “there are lots of reasons…”.

    For to be:
    it’s me who is going > *it’s me who am going
    it’s you who is going ~ it’s you who are going

    it’s me who goes > *it’s me who go
    it’s you who goes > *it’s you who go

    *it’s me who love you
    it’s you who loves me ~ it’s you who love me

    So it looks like I only accept 3rd-person forms except for cliticized “to be,” which makes the non-clitic forms acceptable but a little weird. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that other English auxiliaries are unchanging across persons?

  47. ə de vivre says

    Also, maybe relevant, the Anglo-speaking-French tendency to use 3rd person verb forms in relative clauses and say “moi qui est/a” instead of “moi qui suis/ai,” even when the irregular forms aren’t a problem in non-relative clauses.

  48. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I have debts and debtors in mine, and I always feel like the ‘trespasses’ version has to run to fit in.

    Vaguely on the subject of archaic language – when I was little, I didn’t realise that ‘will’ in the prayer was a noun – I thought the line just meant something like ‘your things will be done’. And I knew that if you were being very polite you didn’t say ‘will’, you said ‘shall’, and if you’re talking to God you should be very polite, and so I misremembered it as ‘thy shall be done’. It still almost catches me out, sometimes.

  49. John Cowan says

    debts vs. trespassers

    The Latin words are debita (ACC.PL) and debitoribus (DAT.PL), so debt and debtors are the obvious translations, but they mean ‘obligations’ and ‘obligors, people who are obliged to us’ more broadly. The 995 translation uses gyltas ‘guilts, sins’ and gyltendum ‘those who are guilty, when there wre relatively few Latin borrowings into English. Wycliffe 1389 goes with dettis, dettours and the 1611 KJV with debts, debters.

    But the Book of Common Prayer from 1449 to 1927 has trespasses, them that trespass against us, and likewise from 1928 to 1997 with those who for them that. Finally, the 1998 recension has sins, those who sin against us, which restores us to the OE version.

  50. David Eddyshaw says

    I have debts and debtors in mine

    Indeed. Mine too. The One True Version. Why the English obsess about trespassing when they could be thinking about money, I’ll never know.

  51. AJP Crown says

    Yes, as a tiny child it was forgive us our trespasses 5 days a week at school, coming home to the EH Shepard drawing of Trespassers Will when I went to bed. I was brainwashed about property from the age of three, no wonder I’m obsessed by it. Bastards.

  52. @John Cowan: The original Matthew 12 has “ὀφειλήματα” and “ὀφειλέταις.” I know nothing about the pragmatic implications of that word choice, however.

    Moreover, since Matthew is quoting Jesus directly, his wording is itself supposed to be a translation—from Hebrew or Aramaic, depending on which language Jesus was using to preach. Moreover, the Greek of that passage is of questionable quality, as it also includes “ἐπιούσιος” (traditionally further translated as the “daily” of “daily bread”), which is not otherwise attested as a koine Greek word.

  53. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
    Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
    I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
    To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
    I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion …

    My own perceptions are probably irrelevant, since I’m a second-language speaker with bookish tendencies and a mother tongue in which there’s no grammatical alternative.

    However, “I who am” still beats “I who is” 10 to 1 on Google Ngrams.

    Even if we restrict further, “it is I who am” is way more common than “it is I who is,” “it’s me who’s” and “it’s me who is” combined.

  54. ə de vivre says

    Are there any native speakers here for whom “you know (that) it is I who am going to the store” is grammatical English? My ideal phrasing is “you know it’s me who’s going to the store,” and each step away from that gets a little less good.

  55. J.W. Brewer says

    This piece has a helpful discussion of ὀφειλήματα etc., including a theory as to what Aramaic word it might represent. Basically, “debt[or]s” is a good translation of the core/literal sense of the Greek, but if we suspect the word is being used in context in a metaphorical/extended sense how to translate it becomes a more open-ended question. And especially if we’re thinking of “debts” not as “something owed to the creditor because we borrowed from him in a voluntary transaction and now must repay as we had agreed to” but as “something owed to the creditor because we injured him by our wrongdoing and are now under an obligation to pay compensation whether or not we feel like it” we are already outside the core sense of “debt” in English even though both of those sorts of debts are all much of a muchness in e.g. a bankruptcy context. (Although you’d be more likely these days to say “liabilities” as the catch-all category.)


  56. David Marjanović says

    “das bin ich” a bit funny

    That’s completely unremarkable: it’s the only way to say “that’s me”.

    the yoo-hoo Gloria

    Day saved.

    “Who say men that I am?”

    …but that’s that as a conjunction, not as a pronoun: the answer is men say that I am something or other.

    But the Book of Common Prayer from 1449 to 1927 has trespasses, them that trespass against us, and likewise from 1928 to 1997 with those who for them that. Finally, the 1998 recension has sins, those who sin against us, which restores us to the OE version.

    Wow. I’ve never heard of a German version other than

    und vergib uns unsere Schuld
    wie auch wir vergeben unser(e)n Schuldigern

    “and forgive (us) our debt = guilt*
    as also** we forgive our debtors”

    It’s only context that makes clear the “debtors” are a metaphor that doesn’t occur anywhere else in the language. (…It’s also a word that few people come into contact with anywhere else.)

    * This lack of distinction (also with “fault” as in “my fault”) is why Germany keeps having a budget surplus, and why Merkel had to be talked out of watching Greece go bankrupt.
    ** As awkward in the original.

  57. Ellen K. says

    @ə de vivre

    “you know (that) it is I who am going to the store” doesn’t strike me as ungrammatical, but quite formal and stilted sounding. I find it hard to imagine someone using that kind of formal language to talk about going to the store. Maybe in a poem, with irony in the mismatch of register and subject.

  58. David Eddyshaw says

    Ir sult sprechen willekomen:
    der iu mære bringet, daz bin ich.

  59. “you know (that) it is I who am going to the store” doesn’t strike me as ungrammatical, but quite formal and stilted sounding.

    Same here.

  60. John Cowan says

    Why the English obsess about trespassing when they could be thinking about money, I’ll never know.

    That’s easy: the fault is not that of the English, but of the Normans, who destroyed the ancient Germanic *allasmannizrehtą in England-and-Wales, though a limited right was re-created by statute in 2000. The Scottish Act of 2003 was fundamentally declaratory of Scottish common law. In N’Iron, however, the position remains horribly Norman: no access to private land, very little Crown land, and no way to get to most of it. The whole of the foreshore between the low and high tide marks, however, is freely accessible throughout the UK except in Shetland, which is still udal and not feudal.

    Everywhere else from Iceland to Finland to Austria it has either survived or been reinstated, including even the Baltic countries, home of the Undeutschen. Unfortunately the right is still quite limited in Germany and Denmark, thanks to too much feudalism in their history.

    In the colonies, the basically Norman position is mitigated in North America by the large amount of Federal/Crown land, and in New Zealand by modern legislation. Australia mostly remains a drought zone for the right to roam, though informal tolerance by landowners is said to be commonplace. There are ongoing campaigns in California and other places to force shore landowners to permit public access to beaches.

  61. Stu Clayton says

    Ir sult sprechen willekomen:
    der iu mære bringet, daz bin ich.

    It’s not often I am invited to consider the poetry of Wally Falconmews ( > Fr. muer = molt). But there we have it in MHG: daz bin ich. As DM wrote, even today it’s the only way to say “that’s me”.

    There is speculation that the poem is a reply to a frog’s opinion as to what MHG sounded like:

    # „Meiner Meinung nach sind die Deutschen ungebildet und grob; wenn einer von ihnen kommt und sich einbildet, er sei höfisch, fühlt man sich zu Tode bestraft und heftig bekümmert. Ihre Sprache klingt wie Hundegebell.“[5] #

  62. Stu Clayton says

    Not just a falcon, any Beizvogel = flighty raptor.

    # Die Beizjagd (von mittelhochdeutsch beizen ‚beißen machen‘, ‚beißen lassen‘; s. a. persisch bāz, ‚Falke‘) #

  63. >Are there any native speakers here for whom “you know (that) it is I who am going to the store” is grammatical English?

    I found an article back from 1970 that treats “it is me/I who…” and “I who…” differently, separating them as an accusative and a nominative construction:

    On Deriving Cleft Sentences from Pseudo-Cleft Sentences (Adrian Akmajian) Linguistic Inquiry, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr., 1970)

    It seems that the author treats “I who am” as self-evident, but distinguishes three “dialects” with respect to “it is X who Y”: first, his own, where “it is I who is” is correct, second, the “it is I who am” camp, and third, speakers who don’t hold with “it is I” at all, and would only say “it is me who is” (never am).

  64. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm, stu
    I suppose what is strange to me about bist du das / ich bin das / das bin ich is gender. The person who asks may not know the gender but the person who answers (well, people of my generation), knows. But ich bin es / ich bin das are possible when ich bin der / ich bin er are not. Also es bin ich is not possible.

  65. David Marjanović says

    the verb agrees in the other direction

    That’s old, BTW: Classical Sanskrit

    tat tvam asi
    that.n thou-EMPH art
    “That’s you! Everything is you!”

    ich bin der / ich bin er are not

    Der bin ich is possible, e.g. if you’ve just heard someone mentioning your name and asking where that person is. I’d say it’s in free variation with das bin ich if indeed the speaker is of the male persuasion. It might make for a slightly more dramatic reveal.

    …I’ve never encountered die bin ich.

    The neuter gender agrees with the precedent, I’d say: “that general stuff you just said, that’s me”. See also tat in Sanskrit and это я “that’s me” in Russian.

    Also es bin ich is not possible.

    Basically, at any hint of emphasis, we abandon the personal 3rd-person pronouns and replace them by the demonstrative ones (even more so in my dialect than in the standard).

  66. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks, that helps a lot. I suppose pronouns never work the same as nouns and the exact usage of demonstratives and gender/genderless alternatives (where such alternatives exist) is just something one learns.

  67. Stu Clayton says

    @Paddy: the exact usage of demonstratives and gender/genderless alternatives (where such alternatives exist) is just something one learns.

    So ist es ! And it’s not the only example of stuff that just must be learned, without a grand récit as safety net. As someone one remarked: Das mag in der Praxis richtig sein, taugt aber nicht für die Theorie.

  68. David Eddyshaw says

    The penny only dropped for me embarrassingly recently that in Kusaal the “It’s a man” construction works just like English with regard to the gender of the pronoun (though Kusaal only distinguishes animate/inanimate.) So

    O ane dau.
    “He’s a man.” (someone already being talked about)

    Li ane dau.
    “It’s a man.” (presenting a new character)

    I’d made quite false deductions about the gender system from the (true) fact that informants won’t accept (say)

    O ane buug.
    as “It’s a goat.”

    without a context in which said goat is already in play.

    I spent some time looking in vain in CGEL for an account of this “expletive it” (as opposed to “expletive there“, about which CGEL is eloquent.)

  69. I love these reports from the bleeding edge of Kusaal analysis!

  70. Perhaps tangential, but just this morning, reading Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, I hit the phrase “I am a man who have to deal with men”, and found the agreement very strange indeed.

  71. Stu Clayton says

    Yes, also the cutting edge of Eddyshaw vocab. I knew only the “obscene or proface” MW meaning: “an exclamatory word or phrase; especially : one that is obscene or profane”, not the plain “filler/supplying a deficiency” sense. My digital 1989 OED doesn’t even list the “obscene or profane” meaning.

  72. David Eddyshaw says

    Expletive deleted …

  73. Stu Clayton says

    That’s the one ! A disappearing deficiency-supplier.

    “Expleta delendum sunt”. One could magick away entire comment threads full of guff.

  74. ə de vivre says

    Neat! Thanks for the reference.* I think I was born a little late to learn that it’s wrong to say “it’s me” in school, so the “proper” way still feels foreign to me.

    *I do enjoy the trope of using contemporary politicians in example sentences. I have fond memories of learning about extensional and intensional reference with examples about whether believing you’re the Prime Minister of Canada entails believing that you’re Stephen Harper.

  75. AJP Crown says

    JC, thanks for your explanation about trespassing. I had no idea, it’s a good introduction for me. People in Norway are very proud of their right to walk virtually anywhere (Norway & Sweden were never as feudal as Denmark). One great British hinderance to landowners is ancient (& some fairly recent) rights of way, which cannot be blocked and are therefore a living hell for developers. 🙂 I’m not sure whether those midblock alleyways through midtown Manhattan (esp. bet. 5th & 6th Aves) are permanently protected in a similar way. What is *allasmannizrehtą? I get the gist, but Google denies the word (if that’s what it is) exists.

  76. Stu Clayton says

    I took the asterisk in front to mean the word doesn’t exist, i.e. is found in no known text. Google is right for once. It’s an imaginary “original form”, fashioned out of the laws, lore and speculation of linguists. I think they intend it more for themselves rather than the general reader. It helps them to distinguish between fact and fiction – an extravagant undertaking, I don’t begrudge them all the help they can get.

    Comments here are often chock-a-block with asterisks, surely you’ve noticed ? It’s cutting-edge. The asterisk means “cut here”, as on a package of Uncle Ben’s Basmati Rice for the microwave. It’s that “carving reality at the joints” idea, due to Plato apparently (the internet says Phaedrus 265d-266a). Completely natural !

  77. AJP Crown says

    This from the man who encloses quotations with pound symbols.

  78. Stu Clayton says

    That’s completely unnatural, of course. But you know me, always trying to buck the trends.

  79. Stu Clayton says


  80. Stu Clayton says

    Comments are hanging fire, and the 15-minute edit feature has disappeared. My trick of adding another comment (which I later delete) to get the edit feature back doesn’t work anymore.

    About the # sign: I got tired of counting pairs of single/double quotes when quoting a quote, so I stopped using quotes to quote quotes. The HTML indentation feature often indents too much for my liking, so I simply don’t use it.

    It used to be a free country. Now I find myself surrounded by raised eyebrows and hats.

    The 15-minute edit feature has revived.

  81. Bathrobe says

    Sorry Ellen, “It’s me who am tired” is an utter abomination for me. Absolutely beyond the pale.

    And this:

    “All of you who have tickets, line up here.” Sounds fine.

    “John, who have a ticket, come here.” Sounds odd.

    One is restrictive, the other is not restrictive. Different.

    He seemed to think that this was ridiculously ungrammatical–not the verb agreement, but the use of “that” for an animate referent..

    Is this a result of some kind of wrong-headed prescriptivism?

    “it is X who BE”

    Yes, it’s a cleft, a term that has barely featured in this whole discussion of grammar. They don’t act the same with regard to agreement as other constructions. I still can’t get over “It’s me who am tired”.

  82. Stu Clayton says

    It’s me who am tired

    “It’s you who I’m tired of” is ok. Topic confusion. A bit like Pronoun Trouble.

  83. PlasticPaddy says

    I would say “I am the one who is tired” / “You are the one I’m tired of”, thus avoiding the problem, although I admit there could be a subtle semantic difference between the second and “it’s you I am tired of”

  84. Stu Clayton says

    I was aiming at the unsubtle phonemic difference between “I’m” and “am”.

  85. AJP Crown says

    No, I’ve got nothing against your #s, I figured it out fairly fast. And I meant to say I’m grateful for the asterisk explanation.

    ‘It’s me who am tired’ is utterly ridiculous. I can imagine circs where I might say it though. I’m quite competitive when I’m tired.

  86. PlasticPaddy says

    As David would say, in my dialect a in am is a stressed vowel BUT verbal forms of to be are never stressed. So “I am” is almost always pronounced the same as I’m or more precisely I + schwa + m. You hear the a in the phrase “amn’t I” which, as a rhetorical question or flourish, allows stress on the a and is discussed in another thread.

  87. David Eddyshaw says

    Never? How about, e.g.

    “Are you ready?”
    “Yes, I am.”

  88. PlasticPaddy says

    You are right. Maybe I mean demonstrative phrases with predicate. Yes, I AM is possible, But yes I AM the minister (as spoken by a woman of diminutive stature in West Africa, say ☺) is theatrical. The use of do as in “I DO know what I am talking about” also sounds theatrical or English to my ears.

  89. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Or “I am that I am”, as God put it. Wikipedia tells me that He actually said אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, but I have to take that on trust.

  90. David Marjanović says

    Luther has ICH WERDE SEIN, DER ICH SEIN WERDE “I will be that I will be”; the Unity Translation (sharable by Catholics and Lutherans; official at least for the former; last revised in 2016) has Ich bin, der ich bin – though the next verse strongly implies ich bin der ‘Ich-Bin’, “I am the ‘I am'”.

    Ich bin, der ich bin is barely grammatical for me. I’d have gone with ich bin, wer ich bin “I am who I am” or ich bin der, der ich bin “I am the one that I am”. But maybe the grammatical mystery is a parable.

  91. David Marjanović says

    tat tvam asi

    I just found on Wikipedia that in the original Vedic it’s tát túvam ási with three maximally stressed words.

  92. Ich been a has been

  93. David Eddyshaw says

    You was?

  94. Oops. Damn autocorrect. Ich bin a has been. Duh!

  95. J.W. Brewer says

    The parallelism of “I AM THAT I AM” and its equivalents in German etc. tracks nicely from the Vulgate’s “Ego sum qui sum,” but the LXX has the notably non-parallel ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὢν, with the second inflected form of “to be” being a participle and thus not needing to be categorized as 1st person v. some other person. The parallelism of the Vulgate et seq. seems to track the Hebrew (in the text we now have), but perhaps the LXX translators found the construction as puzzling as many in this thread and found a workaround.

  96. David Marjanović says

    ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὢν

    “I am Being”? Theology is ontology?

  97. J.W. Brewer says

    David M.: Probably more like “I am the Being,” glossed more conventionally in English as “I am the Existing [One].” In Byzantine icons of Christ, the halo around his head is typically labeled “ὁ ὢν,” although usually in ALLCAPS and spaced out as O Ω N.

  98. Bathrobe says

    I am tired > It’s me who’s tired. (‘I’ as subject highlighted in the cleft construction.)

    I’m tired of you > It’s you who I’m tired of. (‘You’ as object highlighted in the cleft construction.)

    That is sufficient to account for the different verb form.

  99. Stu Clayton says

    “I am Being”? Theology is ontology?

    Of course ! Spinoza spilled the beans.

  100. David Eddyshaw says

    The Kusaal Bible has

    Manɛ an Man.
    “I am Me.”

    with subject focus, which makes sense if you think of it as a reply to “Who are you?” It doesn’t seem really to reflect the original particularly well; there’s nothing in the language to stop you saying

    M anɛ Onɛ bɛ la.
    “I am He Who Exists.”

    which is no more unnatural in Kusaal than in English (or Hebrew), at any rate.

  101. PlasticPaddy says

    From Martin Buber’s Bible translation:

    Als ER aber sah, daß er hintrat, um anzusehn,
    rief Gott ihn mitten aus dem Dornbusch an,
    er sprach:
    Mosche! Mosche!
    Er sprach:
    Da bin ich.

    Gott sprach zu Mosche:
    Ich werde dasein, als der ich dasein werde.
    Und er sprach:
    So sollst du zu den Söhnen Jisraels sprechen:
    ICH BIN DA schickt mich zu euch.

  102. David Eddyshaw says

    The Mooré Bible has

    Mam yaa mam sẽn ya a soaba
    “I am who I am.”

    and God then tells Moses to tell the Israelites that his name is Mam-yaa “I am.” That seems to suffer from the same mistranslation problem as the Kusaal version, in that it uses the “be something” copula instead on the “exist” verb. It may be subtly different in Mooré from Kusaal, though: whereas in Kusaal “It’s me” is

    Li anɛ man.

    with a compulsory dummy subject pronoun just like in English, in Mooré you say

    Yaa mam.

    with no subject, so the line between copula-be and existence-be isn’t quite the same.

    I suspect that in both the Kusaal and Mooré versions the translations would have been more accurate if they hadn’t been filtered through bzw English and French, which both fail to distinguish these different senses of “be” lexically. (I don’t think it’s possible to construe the original Hebrew verb as a copula. Still, the Vulgate shows that the mistranslation is ancient.)

  103. Bathrobe says

    Wikipedia has a page on that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_that_I_Am

    With corresponding pages in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Persian, etc.

    The actual meaning of the phrase is not actually clear.

  104. David Eddyshaw says

    The interpretation of the imperfective as future (necessary in order to interpret the verb as a copula) which seems to underlie the traditional Jewish interpretation presumably rests on a late Hebrew meaning of the verb form. But we have experts here to enlighten us …

  105. John Cowan says

    “I am Me” with subject focus

    That would be “It’s me who is me.”

  106. David Eddyshaw says

    No, that’s foregrounding (the usual sense of it-clefting in English) which needn’t imply focus, although it is compatible with it. The sort of focus I mean is the information-presumed-to-be-new-to-the-listener type, of which the prototypical sort is in response to content questions: here

    Fʋn an anɔ’ɔnɛ?
    “Who are you?”

    Reply: “I am [me.]” That’s the implication of the Kusaal, anyway.

  107. David Eddyshaw says

    (That should be

    Fʋ aan anɔ’ɔnɛ?

    of course. Apologies for any confusion.)

  108. January First-of-May says

    and so I misremembered it as ‘thy shall be done’

    Google tells me that “thy shall be done” occurs in the lyrics of Afraid to Shoot Strangers by Iron Maiden; apparently nobody is quite sure why, but a similar misunderstanding is suspected.

  109. David Marjanović says

    *facepalm* Ich bin der Ich-bin-da, “I am the I-am-here”, is the version I actually know from something church-related. Evidently, for many translators, that’s too close to using articles with personal names (widespread in German dialects, but strictly kept out of the standard).

    bzw English and French

    English bzw. French

  110. In Inspector Morse, series 4, episode 4, “Masonic Mysteries”, 1990, about 1 h 22 min in:

    Morse: “It’s me he wants, it’s me he’s going to get. Or rather, it’s me that’s going to get him.”

    Lewis: “Shouldn’t that be, I who am going to get him, sir?”

  111. Stu Clayton says

    – What are a chocolate bar’s pronouns?

    – Her/she.

  112. Ha!

  113. John Cowan says

    English bzw. French

    Which produces one of the tics of Germans writing in English (though I have never caught DM doing it): “M. and R. wrote in English respectively French” rather than “in English and French respectively.”

  114. From the Space Madness episode of Ren and Stimpy: “It is not I who am crazy… it is I who am mad!

  115. Also interesting from last week’s Rick and Morty, after around the 0:22 mark:

    “You see, Night you is not in charge. Night I am.”

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