“Is that her with the ponytail?” asked Karen.
“That might be her,” said Chris.
Welcome to Do You Need a Ride?, one of my favorite podcasts, hosted by comedians Karen Kilgariff and Chris Fairbanks. The show’s schtick is that Karen and Chris provide a sort of taxi service for their comedian friends, driving them to or from the airport or other places and engaging in hilarious conversation in the car.
The snippet of dialogue above happened when Karen and Chris were picking up comedian Sara Schaefer. And technically, both Karen and Chris made a mistake. If they wanted to be grammatically proper, they would have said:
“Is that she with the ponytail?”
“That might be she.”
Record-scratch. Yuckola! That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Snooty. Antiquated. Ridiculous.
Here’s why it’s (again, technically) correct, though. In English, the pronoun she serves as a subject, while the pronoun her serves as an object.
She published her manifesto. (She is the subject.)
The FBI called her in for questioning. (Her is the object.)
She wore her mink overalls to the Oscars. (She is the subject.)
PETA has been giving her a lot of unwelcome attention. (Her is an object.)
The sentences spoken by Karen and Chris include what’s called a linking verb, which works like an equal sign in an equation:
She is a ventriloquist.
He is a scoundrel.
You are a nightmare.
We are taxidermists.
They are flat-earthers.
Similarly, Karen and Chris were essentially expressing this equation:
that (person) = Sara Schaefer
If we reduce that equation properly we get:
that = Sara
that = she
That is she.
The sentence is simply stating [Subject] equals [something]. There’s no object, so there’s no need for the object pronoun her. The correct pronoun is she.
Similarly, back in the days when we would actually answer telephones, if a caller asked for us by name, we might respond, “This is she” or “This is he.” Pompous, but proper.
But some rules just need to be broken, and Karen and Chris did exactly what they should have done. They threw the pretentious That is she construction out the car window and went with the perfectly acceptable (preferable, really) That is her approach instead.
And you can too. As with all speaking and writing, you should consider your audience, your circumstances, the medium, and the mood. You can always break the rules in English, but it’s good to know you’re breaking them.