Literary Discourse: ‘It is I WHO IS to do the work’: Correct or Wrong?

Introduction
The construction “it is I WHO IS to do the work” sounds acceptable in phonetics (pronunciation) and syntax (word arrangement). Unfortunately, it offends grammatical normalcy; therefore, it is wrong. The correct construction appears awkward and unacceptable to many, especially those who are not endowed with a considerable level of grammatical know-how. But it remains the right construction. Below is the controversial but correct sentence:

  • It is I who AM to do the work.

Certainly, responses of many readers would be exclamations such as “eiiiiiii”! “Ahhhaaa!” “Wayyyyy!” “Huwwah!” But a simply grammatical analysis would find a solution to any skepticism, settle the dust surrounding the expected exclamations, and justify our contention.

Grammatical Analysis
The construction in question – it is I who AM to do the work – is made up of two clauses as stated below:

  • It is I
  • I am to do the work.

The relative adjectival pronoun “WHO” only links the two clauses to form a complex sentence – a sentence comprising one independent clause (it is I) and one dependent clause (who am to do the work). It is a rule in English Grammar that the main verb in a sentence involving a relative adjectival pronoun agrees with the ANTECEDENT of the pronoun NOT the pronoun itself. The ANTECEDENT of a pronoun is the word or words the pronoun stands for, or refers to, or represents. In this context, “WHO” is the relative pronoun referring to “I”. Therefore, “I” is the ANTECEDENT, which is also known as REFERENT in some grammar texts. This implies that “is” cannot agree with “I” to satisfy the requirement of CONCORD: pronoun–antecedent agreement. The appropriate verb is “am”. For instance, it is unacceptable to say “I is to do the work.” We can only say “I am to do the work.”

It is instructive to state that depending on the GRAMMATICAL NUMBER of the ANTECEDENT involved, the same “WHO” can warrant the use of “is” and “are” in different contexts. That alone is enough to justify the claim that the verb involved in a relative adjectival construction agrees with the ANTECEDENT and NOT the relative pronoun. Let us observe the following sentences in which the relative adjectival pronoun “WHO” remains the same but the verbs change in form to agree with the ANTECEDENT of the relative pronoun:

  • It is I who AM to do the work. [First Person Singular]
  • It is you who ARE to do the work. [Second Person Singular]
  • It is he/she who IS to do the work. [Third Person Singular]
  • It is we who ARE to do the work. [First Person Plural]
  • It is you who ARE to do the work. [Second Person Plural]
  • It is they who ARE to do the work. [Third Person Plural].

It is significant to state that all the above sentences can be rephrased in simple forms – without using the “it is …” structure. Below are the simple forms:

  • I AM to do the work. [First Person Singular]
  • You ARE to do the work. [Second Person Singular]
  • He/she IS to do the work. [Third Person Singular]
  • We ARE to do the work. [First Person Plural]
  • You ARE to do the work. [Second Person Plural]
  • We ARE to do the work. [Third Person Plural]

Conclusion
Conclusively, we need to state the category of the “It-clause” from which we have constructed the misguided clause – It is I WHO IS to do the work – and corrected it as – it is I WHO AM to do the work. That clause belongs to a structure known as CLEFT SENTENCE, which would be the next topic of our discourse. Expectedly, not all fellow learners and readers would be convinced by this analysis and correction of the ungrammatical sentence under review. However, to argue otherwise is to campaign for grammatical validity of the sentence: “I IS to do the work” instead of “I AM to do the work.” Such a campaign may be viewed by many linguists as “grammatical coup d’état.” Hahahahaha! May God forbid!!!

References
Halliday, M. A. K. (2004). An introduction to functional grammar . (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of teaching English language. (3rd ed.). England: Longman.

Quirk, R.& Greenbaum, S. (2000). A university grammar of English. London: Pearson Education Ltd.

By Abubakar Mohammed Marzuq Azindoo, Coordinator of Students and University Relations, University of Applied Management (UAM), Germany – Ghana Campus, McCarthy Hill, Accra and Tamale

Email: [email protected] Tel: 0244755402


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