Today, I wanted to write:

It's really unfortunate that most people cling to something that is not themselves just to get what they want.

Then after writing this, I had this weird feeling that the right thing was

something that is not them

Can someone guide or explain to me how these words are used?

  • I don't really see what it means to cling to something that is you (or, that is yourself), or ...something that's not you/yourself. Perhaps you actually mean people do things that are incompatible with their true nature, in order to get what they want? In modern capitalist economies, that's perfectly normal - we call it going to work. Oct 30, 2012 at 18:04
  • Well, yes. Are you saying it's not right to say it in this way? In Zen, it's also called masking, i.e. people wear masks, claiming to be who they are not, but I just wanted to write it that way :) and of course normal is never the best ;) Oct 30, 2012 at 18:11
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    @ChibuezeOpata In English we do not have an idiom "cling to oneself"--what one "clings to" is always something "other than oneself". You could get by with "cling to false identities" or "inauthentic roles" or something of that sort. Oct 30, 2012 at 18:26
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    @StoneyB: I +'ed your comment for "cling to false identities", but I don't think a turn of phrase like that would normally come before "to get what they want". Usually, the net result of "clinging" to something is that you no longer get whatever it was you used to get from it (before the relationship was described as "clinging"). Oct 30, 2012 at 18:38
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    I think really the word "cling" is a bit irrelevant, assuming you're actually asking about whether to use them or themselves. These forms are a bit complex in practice - he's not himself usually means he's acting very strangely, but that's not me usually means it's not what I want. Oct 30, 2012 at 20:03

1 Answer 1


You have asked which of the following is preferable:

It's really unfortunate that most people cling to something that is not themselves just to get what they want.
It's really unfortunate that most people cling to something that is not them just to get what they want.

I am going to slice away some otherwise-debatable portions of the above as not relevant to which is preferable, leaving the following for discussion:

People cling to something that is not themselves.
People cling to something that is not them.

I think the latter is preferable, as it evokes the well-known phrase “But that's not me”. Of course both are slightly clumsy, and I think the following should be preferred:

People cling to something they are not.

Regarding some of the sentence's other issues, (1) I see no problem with the word cling, although some comments have discussed it lengthily and as if it's a problem, and (2) I question the sense of the statement, as such clinging, fronting, or masking may more often be done not “to get what they want” but to fit in or to avoid peer pressure.

  • I have no problem with cling itself - especially not in your final "People cling to something they are not". I'm just saying such usage normally occurs when you're not getting what you want from whatever you're still clinging to (for reasons of habit, insecurity, whatever). Oct 30, 2012 at 19:02
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    Well, I think I like your version for being short and sort of nicer. But I was hoping to understand why and when I could use them or themselves? Oct 30, 2012 at 19:19
  • @ChibuezeOpata That's really a whole other question, then. There are all kinds of places where they could be used. However, they wouldn't normally be used in the sentences you've proposed, even if they are grammatically correct.
    – Zairja
    Oct 31, 2012 at 13:34

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