Nouns are people, places, or things. People, places and things can all either perform actions, or receive actions that are performed by someone else. In grammar, something that performs an action is called a subject, while something that receives an action is called an object.
English has specific pronouns for each of these grammatical cases, like they and them. These pronouns mean almost exactly the same thing, but are not interchangeable since one is an object pronoun, and the other a subject pronoun.
What is the Difference Between They and Them?
In this post, I will compare they vs. them. I will show you example sentences for each of these words, so you can see them in context.
I will also use a memory tool that can also help you decide whether you need to use them or they in any given sentence.
When to Use They
Is they a pronoun? Yes, they is a pronoun. Specifically, it is a third-person plural subject pronoun. It refers to a group of two or more people.
They is nongendered; it can refer to any combination of more than two people.
- I tried to tell the Cleveland fans that their team would lose, but they wouldn’t listen.
- After you go on enough first dates with different people, they all start to blend together.
- At the same time, they talked up their own digital chops, as well as partnerships with and investments in digital companies. –The Wall Street Journal
As I mentioned above, pronouns replace nouns in sentences. They is a subject pronoun, so it replaces the subject of a sentence.
In the first example above, they replaces Cleveland fans in the second clause, where it functions as the subject of the verb phrase wouldn’t listen.
In the second example, they replaces people, which is the subject of the verb start.
When to Use Them
Is them a pronoun? Yes, them is also a pronoun, specifically a third person plural object pronoun. Like they, it refers to a group of more than two people. It is nongendered, as well.
Unlike they, however, them is an object pronoun. It replaces nouns that are the objects of sentences.
See the examples below,
- The British fought valiantly while arrows rained down on them from the French castle.
- Jennifer and Clara become annoyed when Angus tries to do their work for them.
- When we always yield to our children’s wants, we rob them of the opportunity to find solutions by adapting what they already have. –The New York Post
In the first example, them replaces the British as the object of the verb rained. In the second example, them replaces Jennifer and Clara as the object of the verb tries.
Trick to Remember the Difference
Them and they are both third person plural pronouns. Knowing which one to use is not always easy if you aren’t well practiced in English writing, but this mnemonic device will help you.
So, let’s go over a trick to remember them vs. they.
- Them is an object pronoun.
- They is a subject pronoun.
Them and him, another object pronoun, both end in the letter M. This shared letter can be your clue that them should be used as the object in sentences.
Is it they or them? You can use pronouns to replace nouns in sentences, making your writing less repetitive.
- They and them are third person plural pronouns.
- They is a subject pronoun.
Them is an object pronoun.