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Background

Nowadays, I see "them" used to mean "those" a lot. I don't know if it was as common in the past.

For example, take "one of them people".

On researching about it, I found some people say it comes from a dialect of British English. Some others say it is a "non-standard" usage.

I see this usage in Canadian English also, and it seems some people use it in a sarcastic way.

Moreover, I have seen a song titled "one of them days". I also read, in the book called "A Broken Promise", "Now my mother had become one of them people."

Finally, Wikipedia says that it is a usage in Appalachian English (a common name for the Southern Midland dialect of American English):

Pronouns and demonstratives

"Them" is sometimes used in place of "those" as a demonstrative in both nominative and oblique constructions. Examples are "Them are the pants I want" and "Give me some of them crackers."



Question(s):

What would you say about the usage of this word? Is it correct? Could we use it in daily speech? Could this usage go beyond a specific dialect and be used in other dialects, regions, etc.?

Does it really originate from Appalachian English? Why did this usage become popular among other English speakers?

Note: I have already seen a similar question: What are the grammatical rules for use of "these", "those", and "them"?

However, it only says, "ungrammatical," there. This question is specific to this situation only, and there is more to it.

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  • possible duplicate of What are the grammatical rules for use of "these", "those", and "them"? Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:01
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    I've no idea if "Appalachian English" speakers habitually use them instead of those, but I'm quite sure the usage didn't originate there. Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:03
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    I am of Appalachian descent and when I hear it, I usually think of it as intentionally non-standard. "Them's good eats!" for example.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:10
  • Perhaps stuff like "one of them people" might be somewhat similar to the standard English stuff like "This applies to them all".
    – F.E.
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:59
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    @TecBrat I've heard it used as intentionally non-standard, but also as standard. Mostly by me 96 year-old Appalacian grandmother and formerly by her sister, who would now be around 106, were she still alive. Her sister also used dope for soda and a few other unique and age specific words and phrases.
    – Mike
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 8:15

9 Answers 9

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+50

In the succinctly named textbook: English Grammar in Familiar lectures. Embracing a new Systematick Order of Parsing. A New System of Punctuation, Exercises in false Syntax, and A System of Philosophical Grammar. Designed for the use of Schools and Private Learners by Samuel Kirkham, dated 1834 we have this example of usage pertaining to Pennsylvania

Give me them there books.

The author provides further examples and an explanation as to why this construction is considered ungrammatical

Give me them books.

I found an even earlier instance from an American textbook illustrating this usage, dated 1803, The Elements of English Grammar: Methodically Arranged for the Assistance of Young Persons, Who Study the English language Grammatically by George Neville Ussher 1

A Personal Pronoun is sometimes used improperly instead of the Plural Pronoun those. Ex. give me them books; observe them three persons; ought to be, give me those books; observe those three persons

The above extracts prove without doubt that this form of speech (and writing) was used and heard in the past. I cannot say for certain if this usage of them originated in the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountain region of the Eastern United States. I can only testify that when I attended primary school in North London way back in the 70s this form of speech was very common among children.


Aha! I found an even older school textbook The Rudiments of English Grammar For the Use of Those Who Have Made Some Proficiency in the Language By Joseph Priestley, dated MDCCLXXII (1772) printed in London, England.2

Many persons are apt, in conversation, to put the oblique case of the personal pronouns, in the place of these and those; as, Give me them books, instead of those books.

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    When I said I attended primary school in the 70s I meant the 1970s :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 4:48
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    I've just clicked through to the first book. It's really quite charming, but woefully outdated. The section on spelling corrections has some good howlers given what would be standard today.
    – nohat
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 5:13
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    @nohat I particularly loved the title of the third book, the "for those who have some proficiency" It's like saying: Yes, despite being ignorant in English you're not beyond salvation, there's still hope.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 5:19
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    Anecdotally, I've heard that Appalachian English is the closest of the American dialects to British English, presumably because it was isolated from the faster-paced linguistic change that took place in the more populated coastal and plains areas. So there being shared features between the two is not surprising, though it does beg the question, "which British English?"
    – Wlerin
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 22:33
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    @NeerajT I used the Internet for my research, as most users do. books.google.com This is a good starting point.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 8:24
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EDIT: It has come to my attention that this is not true apposition, which would be 'one of them, those people.' Even so, my explanation may give you some idea of what you are looking for, and so I will leave it.

'One of them people.'

The two objects, them and people, are in apposition to each other. Each of them is a noun and each serves the same grammatical function; the purpose of each one, however, is to clarify the identity of the other.

In Modern English, it is unusual to find pronouns (them) in apposition; however, in other languages, it is quite normal. When I studied Old Icelandic I often came across such constructions as:

'He Authun went to see them his friends.'

'She his sister went to see him Authun.'

In Modern English you will see apposition in many constructions, usually in titles, but rarely with pronouns:

'King Ethelred was the rightful king.'

'Emperor Julius Caesar was supposedly born via Caesarian section, whence the name.'

'The cook, John, likes his own soup more than we, his customers, do.'

Or, less commonly:

'Look at them stars.'

But never in Modern English:

'They stars are looking down at us.'

A different analysis may simply say that them people is a colloquial variant of those people, and, to some extent, it is; but I thought that you might want a more thorough explanation of what exactly was happening here.

I did not answer all of your questions, but I do hope that this helps.

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  • If "them" and "people" are truly in apposition to each other, then shouldn't the expression "One of people" then be grammatical?
    – F.E.
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:46
  • You may actually be correct. True apposition would be 'one of them those people.'
    – Anonym
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:49
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    Also, today's standard English also has stuff like "We all enjoyed it", "They all five of them complained". :)
    – F.E.
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:52
  • Obviously the first one is quite common, but I've never heard the second. I always took all to be an adjective in those constructions, but it makes sense either way.
    – Anonym
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 21:54
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    Have a look at German: einer von den Leuten. When the German den is stressed, it has demonstrative character just as one of those people. And einer von d e n Leuten corresponds exactly to "one of them people".
    – rogermue
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 18:21
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The other two answers have addressed whether the construct is "grammatical" or not, so I wanted to tackle the other part of the question:

Can we use it in daily speech? Can this usage go beyond a specific dialect and be used in other dialects, regions etc.?

In my experience, within the American South and rural Appalachian dialects it is certainly used in daily speech. There are certain idioms where it's irrespective of region (e.g. "One of them days.") though sometimes it has an ironic flavor to it.

But in some regions (such as the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast America regions), using the construct would definitely raise eyebrows. You might be looked upon as quirky (at best) or uneducated.

I do find it interesting that even in the Northeast region where adults don't speak that way, children still do. I commonly see toddlers say things like: "I want them trucks". Of course they also use it improperly as a subject: "Them trucks are pretty." Or even "He is them friend." Makes me wonder if the origin has something to do with some kind of simplistic mis-application of the objective case.

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etymonline.com says "them" is related to Old Norse theim written with the special letter thorn, the th-sound as in "them". theim was the dative plural of "they". What I miss is a hint at German:

Compare they die, them denen, their deren/derer. And compare one of them einer von denen, meaning one of those people there.

In English them was used as object case and in dialects "them" is also used for those. Compare the title "Them!" of the science fiction film with the giant ants, USA 1954, directed by Gordon Douglas. Actually the little girl that cries Them! means: Those (giant monster ants)!

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It's definitely incorrect to use "them" instead of "those" in the above examples. As an Irish man living in England it never ceases to amaze me how certain English people cannot even speak their own language correctly, but as Oscar Wilde said "the only good thing the English gave the Irish was their language, and then we taught them how to use it!".

My take on it is that the use of "them" originates from the north of England and also from the East End of London/Essex, and that an inverse snobbery has taken hold wherein it's so common-place to use "them" that a whole generation has grown up thinking that this usage is grammatically correct.

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  • I was unable to find that quote attributed to Wilde; can you provide a reference? Also, can you offer some references to support your hypothesis? We prefer well-researched answers with supporting evidence. You might want to check out the site tour for starters. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 19:29
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There seems to be a natural tendency for English speakers in colloquial speech to use the objective case in place of the subjective in stock phrases, particularly for emphasis: "It's me", "That's him", and so forth. Over time this will might lead to a loss of the subjective forms altogether, as has already happened with you (objective form of the now archaic ye). Speakers who use them in the way you describe may just be a bit further along in this process.

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  • This doesn't explain the use of them for those, since those is a demonstrative pronoun, which can be used in both objective and subjective cases. Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 22:16
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This is from personal experience:

"Them" takes the place of "those" in plain speech. Plain speech in America has very strong appeal. Nixon attributed most of Truman's charisma to his plain speech.

Bear in mind that using "them" in the place of "those" will confuse ESL speakers nine times out of ten.

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The simple and honest answer is no, it is not correct. In England only those who have been poorly educated use the word "them" in this way.

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The usage of "them" as oppose to "those" for the English language comes from the same bastardization (bastardisation for the UK English) of replacing 'my' with 'me'. It is taken from the fact that over time words in the smaller English dialects have been intertwined with modern English to give some mixture of the two. As you can tell, I think it is abhorrent and should be avoided at all costs.

But how does all this apply to this particular subject? Well, the usage is where the problem lies. Because of the medley of words and languages fused within English, the form and structure of sentences is just as diverse. Many smaller villages, including some of the highly educated ones (Oxford and Cambridge, both of which are the home of their respective dictionaries, to name a couple) use an improper English structure. Why would they replace the simple word 'my' with the incorrect 'me'? E.g. "That's me hat!", "That's me car!", "That's me mam!"

Like with all Linguistics studies, the arguments of the form and origin of this type of statement cannot be defined accurately because of how English has ended up being a hodgepodge of multiple languages all rolled up to help express ourselves. There are plenty of words that are borrowed from other languages. Still, I doubt that the origin of this comes from what would have been known as the New World in those days. During the Colonial era, English was not the primary language of the Americas as the French, the Spanish, the Dutch and Germans, etc, had all arrived to stake a claim. I think that this particular use of the language finds itself being brought over from British Isles, perhaps in the form of lower class cockney from the little or even uneducated masses who struck out to the Americas in hopes of finding a new start to their lives.

As to it's propagation? Hereditary. I believe that its origins come in the form of laziness. Yes, laziness. Nothing overtly complex nor extravagant. In much the same way Americans today say moun'ain by refusing to pronounced the 't' in the word, the effort of circling your lips to push out the 'oh' in 'those' is more effort then the 'eh' in 'them'. Over time this habit has been passed down and is now considered 'normal' (if one can consider it that), but has stayed in the rural areas. Over time, the major cities attracted the best and brightest of the world and as a result the standard of the usage has been kept up.

Of course, this is speculation, but I'll keep an eye out for sources that may or may not support this theory.

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    -1 I have downvoted because of the snobbery of your answer, which I think is causing you to see things incorrectly. I am from Yorkshire, where you will commonly hear 'them people' etc. It is not from laziness. Partly it is culture - if everyone around you speaks like that, then of course you will too. And, Yorkshire at one time being a Viking stronghold, @rogermue's answer sounds good to me. Give the large number of dialects in England, who decided what was right and what was wrong? The French-speaking Normans? The Latin clergy? Johnson?
    – Mynamite
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 18:43
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    You are also wrong to say that major cities attract the best and brightest in the world, keeping up the standard of usage. Large cities developed because of the Industrial Revolution, when the rural poor were forced to look for work in factories and mills. Do you seriously think that city dwellers speak a more 'correct' language than country dwellers? That the few 'best and brightest' are responsible for maintaining standards amongst the mass of uneducated poor?
    – Mynamite
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 8:49
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    @Mynamite Also, I must point out that it isn't myself who has used this term 'laziness'. Most strong accents have lazy connotations to them. For example, the Australian and New Zealand accents are often called lazy. The American southern accent is called a drawl (defined as: speak in a slow, lazy way with prolonged vowel sounds). In fact in Folk Linguistics By Nancy A. Niedzielski, Dennis Richard Preston states that "..."Ease of articulation" is often equated with "laziness,"...". I must admit though, it took me a while to find the source.
    – Tucker
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:06
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    It's clear from the other answers that this usage is widespread, from at least Yorkshire to London & from there as far afield as Appalachia and Canada. It is documented from at least 1772, and Rogermue and user61979 draw interesting parallels to Norse and Icelandic patterns. Given its heritage, it can't be attributed to laziness. Individual people are lazy, not centuries of many people. Its use is nothing to do with accent and 'lazy' drawls, it is to do with dialect and idiom. Given its widespread use, who are the arbiters who decide what is standard & acceptable, & what is not?
    – Mynamite
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 21:58
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    @AhmedMasud You're quite right, 'answer' here isn't the same as comments (commentaries). Well, scoured the internet a little bit more (thanks to your help) I've found this article. In it there is a line "...One of those types of prescriptive attitudes she labelled ‘The Damp Spoon Syndrome’ whereby the belief exists that general sloppiness and laziness is causing language change." Sadly the date is April 1, so I'm unsure if it's a genuine article or an April Fool's prank.
    – Tucker
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:50

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