When looking at pictures with someone, you might hear them ask, “Is that him?” You hear this and wonder if that is the correct way to ask that question. Why is it not “Is that he?” and is it grammatically correct to say, “That is him”?
“That is him” is not grammatically correct. “Him” is an objective case pronoun, which means it should receive an action from an action verb of function as the object of a preposition. However, “is” functions as a stative linking verb that links what comes after the subject, so the correct phrase is “That is he,” using the subjective case.
“That is him” is a common phrase English speakers use to identify male persons. It is common to use “him” instead of “he” in this phrase, especially in American English, even though it is not grammatically correct. Continue reading to learn more about the phrase “That is him.”
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “That Is Him”?
Contrary to popular belief, using the objective case pronoun “him” is incorrect when it comes after a linking verb like “is,” a variation of “to be.”
Linking Verbs and Helping Verbs
Pronouns following “is,” “are,” and other variations of “to be” all follow this rule if those verbs are acting as linking verbs. Consider the following examples demonstrating the use of linking verbs.
- We were children at the time.
- He is sad right now.
In the above examples, both “were” and “is” are linking verbs that describe a state of being and not an action. What follows the linking verb renames or describes the subject. We can use a noun or an adjective as a subject complement (source).
In contrast, when we use a transitive action verb after a be verb, we can follow the action verb with a direct object or an object of the preposition.
- We were going to the beach.
- He is running down the street.
Using Verbs With Personal Pronouns
Since pronouns like “him” are specific to the objective case, they cannot directly follow a linking verb, but they can follow a transitive action verb or serve as the object of the preposition.
However, if you change the objective case pronoun “him” into the subjective case pronoun ”he,” “That is him” becomes the more formal but grammatically correct “That is he.” Consider the difference between the objective case and the subjective case in the following examples.
- I told him that I wasn’t going to the party.
- He was informed by him that I wasn’t going to the party.
- He informed him that I wasn’t going to the party.
As the object, “Him” receives the action in the first sentence, while “him” serves as the object of the preposition in the second. Also, in the second sentence, the subject “He” receives the action from the object since this sentence is in the passive voice.
However, it is generally better to write in the active voice where the subject performs the action on the direct object as in the last sentence.
In contrast, we use the subjective case “he” directly after the linking verb in the next example:
- That is he, officer. He took my bag.
The example above is grammatically correct because “he” is in the subjective case. In this case, it is the predicate nominative, telling us who or what the subject is (source).
Using Objective Case Pronouns after Helping Verbs
Note: It is important to remember that the use of subjective pronouns after a linking verb only applies to pronouns that follow directly after a linking verb.
For instance, if “is” acts as a helping verb in a sentence, you can use an objective case pronoun after the be verb, but not immediately after.
- Incorrect sentence: That was him she helped.
- Correct sentence: She was helping him.
“Was,” which is a past tense variant of the verb “to be,” is a linking verb in the first example. However, in the second example, “was” is a helping verb for the main verb “helping,” so the objective case pronoun “him” can follow.
What Does “That Is Him” Mean?
“That is him” is what you say when you want to identify someone without using their name in informal speech. In most cases, because the speaker does not specifically name a subject, the speaker may physically point at the subject they are referring to.
“That” in the phrase “That is him” plays the part of a relative pronoun and is the subject of this sentence. In this case, the verb “is” is a stative verb that can help describe the subject’s state of being. Thus, the linking verb “is” connects the objective case pronoun “him” to the relative pronoun “that.”
If you want to learn more about linking verbs, you should read “Is It Correct to Say ‘All Is Well’ or ‘All Is Good’?”
“Him” is the personal objective form of the pronoun “he,” which means the male species of an organic organism (source). Although it is socially acceptable, especially in American English, to say “That is him,” grammatically, it should be “That is he.”
A speaker may use “he” or “him” to bring attention to someone they were already speaking about (source).
There was a guy in the park last night. Wait. That is him. That is the man I was talking about.
The relative pronoun “That” indicates something your listener is already familiar with. In this case, the man the speaker was talking about in the sentence prior. “Him” renames the subject, pointing to a male person.
How Do You Use “That Is Him”?
Technically, you are not supposed to use “That is him” in a formal sentence, but this phrase is so common in conversational English that few recognize it is grammatically incorrect. However, in an informal setting, the correct construction is pronoun plus linking verb plus masculine pronoun “him.”
- Masculine: That is him.
- Feminine: That is her.
- Neuter: That is it.
We use pronouns when it is unnecessary to repeat the sentence’s subject. In general, repeating the entire sentence when answering questions is unnecessary and has a strange sound to it.
- Question: Is that the man with the new hat?
- Answer: Yes, that is the man with the new hat.
It is unnecessary to repeat the full sentence in this scenario because we’ve already established the subject. It is more useful and common to shorten the reply.
- Yes, that is the man with the new hat.
- Yes, that is the man.
- “ Yes, that is him” or “Yes, that is he.”
The first answer repeats the question, while the second example repeats part of the question but is more direct. The last answer will depend on the setting, whether it is formal or informal.
When Can You Use “That Is Him”?
Although the correct phrase is “That is he,” when you are using informal language, it is common to use “That is him” when the speaker identifies a male subject to the listener.
“That,” in this context, refers to someone that is not physically near you and or the listener. In this situation, you might find that the speaker has to point to the subject they are talking about for the listener to understand.
- Question: Sally looks around, “Which one is he?”
- Answer: Tammy points to a man by the stairs:“That is him over there.”
Notice that Tammy uses a physical gesture along with a vocal one to answer Sally’s question.
It is also acceptable, if not technically correct, to use the phrase in informal written language as well. In this case, no physical indicators will help, but if you are replying to a direct message about a topic you’ve previously discussed, you shouldn’t need them.
In What Context Can You Use “That Is Him”?
In informal English, especially American English, it is acceptable to use “That is him” or the abbreviation “That’s him” to call attention to a subject that is male. The context in which you may use “that is him” the most would be if someone were to ask you to identify someone.
- Question: “Have you seen this man?” said the officer, holding up a photo.
- Answer: “That is him right there,” said the woman, pointing to a man behind the counter.
In this example, the woman directly answers the officer’s question.
Using “That Is Him” in a Full Sentence
When you use “That is him” in a full sentence, you replace what would be the subject pronoun “he” in the sentence with its objective counterpart “him.” Again, this is not correct grammatically, but it is common in informal settings and socially acceptable in conversational English.
In the next example, a woman is looking at some pictures to try to identify which man stole her purse. With that in mind, the conversation may go something like this:
- Witness: That is the man who stole my purse.
- Detective: Are you sure that is him?
- Witness: Yes, I’m sure. That’s him. That is the man who did it.
Notice in the above example that the speakers use both “That is him” and “That’s him” to identify the man. “That’s him” is just a shortened version of “that is him” and is also socially acceptable in English.
When Not to Use “That Is Him”
Technically, if you want to be grammatically correct, you should avoid using “That is him” altogether. The correct phrase in a formal setting would be “That is he” because an object pronoun, such as “him,” should not follow directly after the linking verb “is.”
- Formal Phrase: That is he.
- Informal Prase: That is him.
It is good practice to avoid the phrase “That is him” in highly formal situations, such as formal letters, business memos, or class assignments.
What Can You Use Instead of “That Is Him”?
If you find yourself in a highly formal situation and are unsure what to use instead of “That is him,” you can either rephrase the question in your answer, say “That is he,” or use a phrase like “He is the one.”
If you want to avoid using “That is him,” you can rephrase someone’s question in a full sentence repeating the subject rather than replacing it with a pronoun.
- Question: Is this the guy?
- Answer: Yes, that is the guy.
You can also say the correct phrase, “That is he,” although, again, this phrase may sound overly pompous and odd to American English speakers, who are generally more accustomed to saying “that is him.”
- Question: Is this the man who was there that night?
- Answer: Yes, that is he.
Something less formal that is also grammatically correct is the phrase, “He is the one.” This has the same meaning as “This is the guy,” but the subject pronoun “he” replaces “this,” and “the one” is an impersonal pronoun that means “a person” (source).
- Question: Is this the guy at the party this past weekend?
- Answer: Yep, he is the one.
Notice that this phrase is very informal, so it wouldn’t be a good idea to use it in formal situations, like with your teachers or colleagues, unless you have established an informal relationship with them.
Nominative vs. Objective Case
There are three pronoun cases: the nominative case, the objective case, and the possessive case. The nominative case or subjective case is for pronouns we use as the subject, while the objective case is for pronouns that serve as the object of the verb or the object of the preposition (source).
Pronouns that are strictly in the objective case include “me,” “him,” “her,” “us,” “them,” and “whom.” Pronouns that are strictly in the subjective case include “I,” “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” and “who.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
For formal English, you should always use the subjective case directly after a linking verb. However, for colloquial English, it’s often better to use the objective case even though it’s grammatically incorrect since you might come across as somewhat pompous.
“That is him” is technically incorrect, but it is so common in conversational English that the correct phrase “That is he” sounds incorrect or too formal to many English speakers. There are many common expressions in conversational English that ignore the rules for the subjective case and the objective case.