0

I have asked this question in ELL site, but as I haven't received any answer from grammatical point of view, I am asking the same question here. Please help.

I pity those who lost their money in gambling.

I pity them who lost their money on gambling.

I know the first one is correct, but I think there is nothing wrong grammatically with the second sentence, as both them and those are pronoun. Am I wrong somewhere? Please help me.

Thanking you.

  • 1
    Objective pronouns can't be modified by relative clauses. Demonstrative pronouns can. – jlawler Jul 15 '14 at 3:34
  • @jlawler When we reduce the sentence to "I pity them" and "I pity those", both "those" and "them" are objective pronoun. Aren't they? – Man_From_India Jul 15 '14 at 3:42
  • What are you asking? Whether they're grammatical? – curiousdannii Jul 15 '14 at 6:11
  • @curiousdannii just to know the real reason why we can't say this. – Man_From_India Jul 15 '14 at 6:20
  • 1
    It's a question of register. Standard English today allows demonstrative pronouns, but not personal pronouns, to take a relative clause as modifier. But until quite recently they who and them who were both as grammatical as those who, and you can still find them who in non-standard varieties. – TKR Jul 15 '14 at 20:58
4

Jlawler's comment contains the direct answer to the question. Definite personal pronouns (I/me, you, he/him, she/her, it, we/us, they/them) cannot take a restrictive modifier. In other words, they cannot take a dependent that narrows the set of entities that they denote. This trait of personal pronouns underlies their use as test words for constituent structure. For example:

 (a)  The man with the hat knows the woman with the scarf.

 (b)  He knows her. 

 (c) *He with the hat knows her with the scarf.

Sentence (a) is the starting sentence. Sentence (b) shows proform substitution; the personal pronouns he and her have been substituted in for the noun phrases the man with the hat and the woman with the scarf. Based on the acceptability of sentence (b), one concludes that both the man with the hat and the woman with the scarf are constituents. Definite pronouns such as he and her (and them) take the place of constituents, in this case of complete noun phrases.

The unacceptability of sentence (c) reveals that the strings the man and the woman in (a) are not constituents. In other words, the definite personal pronouns he and her cannot take dependents (=modifiers), since they necessarily replace an entire noun phrase. This fact explains why them who lost their money in the question is bad English. The relative clause who lost money is a postdependent (=postmodifier), and as such it cannot modify them (because them as a definite personal pronoun cannot be modified).

The plural demonstrative pronouns (these and those) behave differently. They can take postdepndents (=postmodifiers, i.e. a modifier that follows them), e.g

 (d)  These with hats know those with scarves. 

This is simply a trait of the plural demonstrative pronouns (these and those) -- there is no good explanation why plural demonstrative pronouns behave differently than definite personal pronouns; they simply do. Note that the plural demonstrative pronouns also behave differently than the singular demonstrative pronouns in this regard, e.g.

 (e)  *This with a hat knows that with a scarf.

Singular demonstrative pronouns (this and that) are behaving like the definite personal pronouns; they cannot take dependents.

The combination plural demonstrative pronoun + restrictive relative clause can actually be viewed as a particular construction in English and related languages. That is, it is a combination that occurs relatively frequently and has therefore been lexicalized. German has a very similar construction, e.g.

 (f) Diejenigen mit einem Hut kennen diejenigen mit einem Schal. 
     those      with  a   hat  know     those   with  a   scarf.

By acknowledging that one has a particular construction, one is in a sense admitting that there is no real grammatical "explanation" for the phenomenon. It simply exists.

Finally, note that there are certain apparent exceptions to the principles mentioned above. There are uses of personal pronouns that actually allow modification, e.g.

 (g) He who studies a lot gets a good grade. 

In this example, the personal pronoun he is not referring directly to a specific entity, which means it is not definite; it is, rather, being used as an indefinite pronoun; it means 'the one, anyone', e.g. Anyone who studies a lot gets a good grade.

  • There is a modern short story by Saul Bellow: "Him with his foot in his mouth". Now that is colloquial English, isn't it? – fdb Jul 15 '14 at 12:24
  • There is another sentence I found "It was she who drank the blood from the baby". Here also "she" takes a modifier. Here "she" is no doubt a definite pronoun. So why it's here? Please explain. – Man_From_India Jul 15 '14 at 15:05
  • 1
    Nominative personal pronouns can be modified by relative clauseas just like demonstrative pronouns; it's the objective personal pronouns that can't. He who, she who, they who, you who are all grammatical, if archaic. Him who, her who, them who, however, aren't. – jlawler Jul 15 '14 at 15:43
  • Thanks @jlawler and Tim Osborne for your valuable contributions. – Man_From_India Jul 15 '14 at 15:52
  • @jlawler But in Osborne's answer this sentence was marked as incorrect - He with the hat knows her with the scarf. But why, then? – Man_From_India Jul 15 '14 at 15:59
2

"God helps them who help themselves" is a well-known proverb in English. Your second sentence ("I pity them who...") is correct English, though not perhaps the most usual way to say this. There is nothing wrong with "He with the hat knows her with the scarf" either. Both belong to an elevated (literary) style.

  • 1
    Hmmmm. My sense of the language disagrees with your claim; "he with the hat" is quite bad. Your sentence "God helps them who help themselves" is also not so good; I prefer "God helps those who help themselves". – Tim Osborne Jul 15 '14 at 11:16
  • How about this one: "Then let them which are in Iudea, flee to the mountaines, and let them which are in the midst of it, depart out, and let not them that are in the countreys, enter thereinto", Luke 21,21 KJV. – fdb Jul 15 '14 at 11:27
  • 1
    King James biblical English is not representative of how the language is used in our modern times; it is quite stilted. – Tim Osborne Jul 15 '14 at 11:38
  • 2
    I do not contest that "them who" and "them that" are not exactly modern colloquial English. I am protesting mainly against your contention that there is some logical underlying law that rules out these constructions. Language is not about logic but about usage. Until very recently the language of Shakespeare and the of KJV (both 17th century) were regarded as the supreme models of good English style. – fdb Jul 15 '14 at 11:43
  • I contest the implication of your comments, this implication being that the language allows anything at all. The notion that "them who" or "them that" are acceptable in the modern language is blind to how the vast majority of people speak English. Proform substitution as a test for constituent structure is widely employed in syntax textbooks. Would you like me to list some sources? – Tim Osborne Jul 15 '14 at 13:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.