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A friend of mine (we are both non native english speakers, french actually) is writing lyrics and came to me to have an opinion on a sentence, and I actually am not 100% sure about the good answer.

The lyrics go like this :

How could you convince the people?

When you don't even believe in it

The question was about how we could refer to said people in the first sentence. The three propositions are :

  • Him
  • It
  • Them

I would totally rule out "Him" because people is plural here. "It" would refer to an object, so it only leaves "Them" available.

Would someone care to elaborate on this?

Thank you all in advance :)

  • I'm confused. Where will you be using this pronoun? – Hot Licks Aug 29 '16 at 23:17
  • I'm not really a hot shot in grammar, so maybe I'm using the wrong term, I'm sorry. Maybe I can rephrase as : How would you refer to "the people" from the first sentence, in the second sentence? – Shahor Aug 29 '16 at 23:21
  • Normally you'd use "them". Though in a lyric you have "poetic license". – Hot Licks Aug 29 '16 at 23:24
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The pronoun you select must have an antecedent, i.e., a noun the pronoun refers to. Your readers (or listeners) will scan what they've read (or heard) to find a match suitable in number, gender, or person, or some combination.

It won't work because it's singular and neuter, which leaves out people and you respectively. You'll leave the audience wondering if the lyric shouldn't have been something like

Of altruism, how could you convince the people
When you don't even believe in it?

Him is out since it's masculine, singular, and third person, conflicting with plural people and second-person you. If you persist, the audience will be wondering if they missed something like

How could you think John could convince the people
When you don't even believe in him?

Just for fun and completeness, you can't have you be the antecedent unless you use a reflexive pronoun, since the believer and the believed in coincide:

How could you convince the people
When you don't even believe in yourself?

Them does the trick, third person and plural; it's a match for the noun people.

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I think them works just fine:

How could you convince them

When you don't even believe in it

Yourself seems to be implied at the end of the second line.

Not clear you need even or in; depends on context. If we take them out:

How could you convince them

When you don't believe it

Reinserting even:

How could you convince them

When you don't even believe it

Not clear to whom them refers, but that's not necessarily a problem for your lyrics. After all, these two lines have a larger context that only you and your friend know.

  • Oh, you got it wrong sir :) I was not talking about replacing "people", but about how to refer to that subject in the second sentence. Thank you though :) – Shahor Aug 30 '16 at 13:53
  • @Shahor Your question certainly made it sound like you wanted to replace people with them. :-) Just trying to help. I did my best. – Richard Kayser Aug 30 '16 at 17:39
  • You're actually right, the phrasing is not perfect :) – Shahor Aug 31 '16 at 19:09
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+If 'people' is the 'subject noun', You possibly wanted either: 'Those'(Distance) or'These'(Proximity), respectively. (a year later he sez as though it counts)

If i might say further, that given to be, appropriately it were in fact the intended diction of the lyric, 'Those/These people'; at pains, properly i should hold back on suggesting some, (shall we) 'concise', alternatives;

'That Lot', 'Them Lot', 'That Mob'. (All viable;)

My reasoning herewith, 'Those/These people', (it's all assuming the expression from in with which you are speaking, of course), some might consider 'cras' in note. Also i suggest: I fear that in translation, there is too,a factor of risk, as coming across as sounding a little, Dago.

+Richard Kayser... 'believe in it' has more weight.. (it is a song lyric, Guy.. of course it wants weight..)

  (Note to self: Try not to be a year late next time)
  • 1
    This is ... hard to read, though it does seem to be addressing the question. Can we beg that you do some editing. Basically we're looking for expert answers, so we more or less expect answers to look like they were written by experts. – MetaEd Sep 13 '17 at 18:49

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