Someone recently commented on an old post about the use of “who” and “whom” to ask which of these two sentences would be correct:
He is taller than I.
He is taller than me.
I’ll confess that I didn’t answer immediately because I wanted to think about it for a bit first. Even though I wrote in that old post about linking verbs (of which “is” is one) and how they require that the pronoun be in the subjective case (so “I”), I balked at shelling out that advice, probably because the first sentence just sounds so stuffy, almost as if to use the “I” here would be a hyper-correction.
Usually, I’ll write around such a problem rather than confronting it, since if it makes me pause for a moment, surely it does the same for others. In this case, I might rewrite as “he is taller than I am,” which is more explicit and sounds less stuffy.
Flipping through The Elements of Style today to find inspiration for a post, I ran across a brief article on the importance of “ear” in writing. The handbook is here proscribing the use of fancy words (no need to use “beauteous” when “beautiful” or even “pretty” will suffice) and goes on to suggest that sometimes it’s ok to break the rules if the “correct” usage just sounds bad. One example provided is shifting a preposition to the end of a sentence to avoid awkwardness. Another:
And would you write “The worst tennis player around here is I” or “The worst tennis player around here is me”? The first is good grammar, the second is good judgment — although the me might not do in all contexts.
So there you have it. Even crusty old Strunk and White sometimes allow for divergence from the traditional rules of grammar. Because the pair of sentences offered in that old comment contain a linking verb, the subjective pronoun is correct, but more often than not, the incorrect usage in this sort of case actually sounds less like an error and is ok to discard.