“I’m” is a contraction for “I am,” and we often use them interchangeably. However, if you’re writing in a formal setting, you may wonder which one you should use. Is it “I’m” or “I am”?
“I am” is the preferable form in most cases. I am is a little more formal and can even stand alone as a confirmatory statement that you are something. Academic writing frowns on first-person pronouns in general and contractions like “I’m.” Unless you’re writing for a discipline that encourages personal narratives, avoid first-person pronouns and contractions like “I’m” as much as possible.
Apart from that, the Chicago Manual of Style notes that contractions can benefit most types of writing by making your writing sound more relaxed and natural. When you do use “I’m,” it will be at the beginning or middle of a sentence, but unless you’re referring to it as a word, you should never see a sentence that ends with “I’m.”
The most important thing to consider is your audience. Continue reading, and we’ll show you when to use “I’m” or “I am.”
What’s the Difference Between I Am and I’m?
“I’m” is a very common contraction for “I am,” combining the first-person pronoun “I” with the be-verb “am.”
The verb “am” is the first-person singular present indicative of “be” (source). It’s the first person because the speaker or writer refers to themself, and it’s the present indicative because it indicates that person’s state or condition at that particular moment.
There are similar contractions with be-verbs for writing in the first-, second-, or third-person point of view in both singular and plural.
|First Person Singular||I||am||I’m|
|First Person Plural||We||are||We’re|
(Singular or Plural)
|Third Person Singular||He, she, it||is||He’s, she’s, it’s|
|Third Person Plural||They||are||They’re|
While the first person indicates the speaker, the second person refers to the addressee, and the third person points to a third party apart from the speaker (source).
Contractions use an apostrophe to indicate the omission of letters, and contractions are more common in spoken and informal written English (source). The same goes for the be-verb contraction “I’m,” which is more common in spoken English (source).
Both forms rely on the pronoun “I,” which is in the nominative or subjective case, meaning it serves as the subject instead of the object. The objective case would be “me.”
When to Use I Am and I’m in Formal Writing
For academic writing, one common question that students ask themselves is, “Should I use I’m or I am?” Generally, you’ll want to avoid either because academics tend to frown on using the first-person singular or contractions, and using “I’m” breaks both rules (source).
For example, if you’re writing an academic research paper in the education or psychology field using American Psychological Association (APA) Style, you should try to avoid contractions (source).
Still, Modern Language Association (MLA) Style, APA style, and the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) recognize that there is a place in professional writing for a more conversational tone. One reason is that contractions can add a level of approachableness and friendliness to your writing.
The Associated Press (AP) Style Guide, which many journalists and business publications rely on, recommends using common contractions like “I’m,” likely to help maintain a milder tone.
However, it’s best to avoid any contractions at all for very formal writing, like for grants, legal documents, or academic papers, particularly in the sciences. By avoiding contractions, you convey a far more serious and professional tone.
First Person vs. Third Person
Academic writing also frowns on the excessive use of the first-person perspective in favor of the third person to communicate a sense of objectivity and distance (source).
Still, there are some academic fields where writing about your personal experience is necessary and where you might at least use “I am.” For example, you might use the first person in philosophy, literature, or the fine arts (source).
Avoiding writing in the first person can be quite a challenge. For more alternatives to writing from the first-person perspective, you may wish to read our article, “What Can I Write Instead of I?”
Using I Am and I’m Grammatically
We’re most likely to use first-person pronouns like “I” with “am” while writing about our personal experiences through stories or narratives. Outside of academic writing or very formal settings, attempting to use “I am” in conversational English will most often come off as a bit rigid or stiff.
There are also some general rules about where we place “I’m” or “I am” in a sentence, so let’s look at the various ways we can apply each.
Linking “I Am” With Subject Complements
“Am” is most often a verb that functions as a linking verb as opposed to an action verb. Instead of indicating an action by itself, it connects the subject to the sentence’s predicate, the part that says something about the subject (source).
A subject complement can be a word or phrase that follows a linking verb like “am.” A subject complement is usually a noun or adjective that either describes the subject or renames it.
Predicate adjectives go after the linking verb and describe the subject, while predicate nouns or predicate nominatives rename the subject, telling us what it is. For example, we use predicate adjectives like “fine,” “well,” or “good” with “I am” or “I’m” to refer to our state of being.
I am fine, thank you. (More formal).
I’m good, thanks. (Less formal).
For more on the difference between these phrases, make sure you read “I Am Fine or I Am Good: What’s the Difference?”
While “I am” is less common in conversational English, we might use it to emphasize something about how we feel. Consider the following conversations:
Person 1: I’m hungry.
Person 2: Then let’s get a bite to eat.
Person 1: Would you like to grab a bite to eat?
Person 2: Well, I am hungry.
In the second example, Person 2 places the stress on the be-verb “am” to confirm that they would like something to eat.
We use the predicate nominative with a noun following “I am” or “I’m” to describe our occupation or who we are. The predicate nominative “names” who or what we are.
I’m a doctor.
I am a school teacher.
When introducing your name, it would sound very out of place if you said, “I am Tony.” In such a situation, you would want to communicate a degree of friendliness, which the informal contraction “I’m” helps you to do.
Existential “I Am”
As an existential statement, “I am” can also mean “I exist,” which refers to having a material or spiritual being. The metaphysician Rene Descartes made one of the most famous existential statements when he said, “I think, therefore I am.”
Still, the desire to place something after the linking verb “am” is so strong that many Bible translators translated the Greek “Ego eimi,” “I am,” in John 18:5-8 to “I am He” (source). Other translations leave it as “I am,” recognizing it as an allusion to the name Yahweh. Still, both communicate on some level His deity as the self-existent One.
In this case, “am” functions as the main verb instead of as a linking verb. As such, it can stand on its own as a statement, or we can follow it with a prepositional phrase functioning as an adverb modifying “am.”
A Confirmatory Response to a Question
Sometimes, we can use “I am” as a standalone statement as a brief answer to a question. This is one case where we would never use the abbreviated form “I’m.”
Person 1: Are you John?
Person 2: I am.
Person 1: Who is coming to the library with me?
Person 2: I am!
Person 1: Are you helping Susan with her homework?
Person 2: I am.
Adverbial Prepositional Phrases
We can also follow “I am” or “I’m” with a prepositional phrase to state where we are. The prepositional phrase is adverbial because it modifies the verb “am” and not the subject “I.” This is still a statement of existence, and the prepositional phrase states where you exist at that moment.
I’m on Fifth Avenue.
I’m at the store, dear.
Sometimes, when we are drawing a comparison, we might use “I am” at the end of a sentence, but we would never do this with “I’m.” When we do use “I’m,” it’s typically at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle — and that’s usually at the start of a clause.
My colleagues are more patient than I am.
My teammates are much faster than I am.
I’m more patient than my colleagues.
I’m faster than my teammates.
While I’m slower than Tim, I’m faster than Jack.
Negative Form: I Am Not or I’m Not
By adding the adverb “not” to “I am” or “I’m,” we can make a negative statement about something we are not.
I’m not as fast as my teammates.
I’m not as patient as my colleagues.
We can also follow “I am” or “I’m” with other adverbs.
I’m rarely lazy.
I am never late.
I’m still here.
I’m always working.
Childish Usage of Am
You may have heard the childish use of “am” in either the positive or negative sense, where one child makes a comment about themself or the other child.
Child 1: You’re a liar!
Child 2: Am not!
Child 1: Are too!
Child 1: I’m a good kid.
Child 2: Are not!
Child 1: Am too!
Forming Questions With the Inverted Am I
We can also form simple questions by inverting the “I” and “am” to “Am I?”
Am I doing this right?
Am I in the right place?
Am I troubling you?
In the following example, Person 1 makes a statement about Person 2, and Person 2 calls that statement into question. The second person might be asking a question in earnest or making a sarcastic remark, depending on their tone.
Person 1: You’re pretty good at this.
Person 2: Am I?
We can also use “am I” at the end of a statement to turn it into a tag question. In the next example, someone is expressing their self-perceived lack of skill at something, whether their perception is true or not.
I’m not very good at this, am I?
Use With Another Verb
We most often use forms of “to be” like “I am” in combination with another verb to describe something we’re doing (source). In this case, “am” functions as a helping verb to connect the action verb to the subject.
The progressive form or continuous form includes a form of “to be” and a present participle ending in -ing. The progressive tense indicates a continuing or ongoing action (source). This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Actions happening now:
I’m going to the store.
Actions in progress:
I’m working on my dissertation.
Actions occurring in the future:
I’m going to the library tomorrow.
The application of “I am” in formal writing will be very limited, and “I’m” will be even less applicable, except when you’re quoting someone else directly.
In conversational English, “I am” will seem far too stiff in most situations unless you’re using it to confirm something about yourself. When we use it sparingly, the contracted form “I’m” can communicate a degree of approachableness that “I am” does not.
The location of “I’m” in a sentence is also important for informal speech and writing, as you should never use it at the end of a sentence unless you’re referring to it as a word.