What's the meaning of 'Em?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by AllAboutUs, May 5, 2014.

  1. AllAboutUs Senior Member


    Can you explain this word's meaning?
    For example,

    Take 'Em Off

    Hit 'Em Up

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2014
  2. Florentia52

    Florentia52 Modwoman in the attic

    English - United States
    It is a shortened version of "them."
  3. AllAboutUs Senior Member

    Thank you Florentia52.
  4. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Note that "'em" is used to show how people are speaking, i.e. running words together and not enunciating. ... it is not standard written English.
  5. AllAboutUs Senior Member

    Hi sdgraham,
    We don't use this word during writing and we don't pronounce as "em" during speaking. When do we use that? :)
    Note: Sorry, I have not understood here ->
  6. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English

    Use it in dialog when trying to sound like authentic spoken words.

    So a cowboy in the wild west finding that Sneaky Pete's gang had stolen some horses, and having captured the felons, he might say. "Awright boys, let's hang 'em high". (Hang them by the neck with a noose until they are dead.)

    This is not "good" English, but perhaps representative of how a cowboy might speak.
  7. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Many English speakers run words together or shorten words when speaking. If we wish to convey this manner of speech as in dialogue, colloquial speech, etc., we do so, e.g.

    Give 'em a break.
    Let 'em go.
    Gimme a drink.
    I'm gonna go fishing.


    That does not mean that "'em" or other such devices are standard English and used where good writing is appropriate.

    You won't see 'em, for example, in newspaper articles in good newspapers. (except, perhaps in direct quotes)

    [cross-posted with Packard]
  8. AllAboutUs Senior Member

    Thanks, sdgraham, Packard.
    Can we say that 'em usually uses in local dialect/accent of an area? Such as, more regional, more rural. It doesn't belong to the urban language. Or, the gentle people don't use this word during speaking? :))
  9. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    I'm sure almost everybody says 'em from time to time, or at least th'm. It's not limited to any particular place or group, simply a normal part of fast, relaxed speech. "Not enunciating" doesn't mean 'not speaking, it means 'not speaking clearly'.
  10. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I think it is generally associated with under-educated people, or educated people who've had too much to drink.
  11. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Yes, but it's purely a literary convention. Everybody says 'em. It's so common that it's not significant. But authors who deliberately write 'em instead of them, want to emphasize that the person is under-educated, or has had too much to drink.

    In the same way, everybody pronounces 'says' as sez, but authors write 'sez' to to point out that the person is under-educated.
  12. AllAboutUs Senior Member

    Thanks, Packard, Keith Bradford. I've understood better after last explanations. I wonder (that) "do similar shortened words use in newspapers, academic articles, official writings" etc?" after Mr. sdgraham's explanation.

    going to - gonna
    want to - wanna
    gimme - give me
  13. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    Etymologically, it has nothing to do with them. There is no rule of historical linguistics that can explain the disappearance of th. 'Em is the objective (originally dative) form of the personal pronoun hi, which in Old English meant they. Exceptionally, modern English has adopted North Germanic (Scandinavian) forms in the pronouns they, them and their, rather than the more usual West Germanic forms.

    The OED explains all this under the heading 'em (pronoun).
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  14. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    With all due respect, if you mean to say "them" but it comes out as "em" it does have something to do with them. It seems fairly absurd to say otherwise even with the OED to back up your statement.

    "Hang em High", the classic Clint Eastwood movie was all about hanging them.

    See: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061747/

    Hang 'Em High (1968) When an innocent man barely survives a lynching, he returns as a lawman determined to bring the vigilantes to justice.

    On re-reading this sounds a lot harsher than I intended. My apoligies.
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
  15. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    All these are spoken by most people. But they're never written, except in novels to emphasize the character of the speaker (see my #11 above) or by lazy twitterers, among friends.
  16. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    That's what I have been told too. In other words, in late OE, we have:
    hi = they
    heom = them
    heora = their

    Our 'em is derived from OE heom, whereas our them is derived from Norse (Viking-speak) þeim.

    In Middle English (1100-1450), heom became hem. If you're familiar with Chaucer, writing in the 14th century, you'll see that he uses hem (derived from OE, and very much like 'em):

    so priketh hem Nature in hir corages
    (line 11 of the General Prologue) =
    so pricks them Nature in their courage=desire (so Nature spurs them on in their desire)
  17. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    With all due respect, Mr P, you only think you mean to say 'them': what your brain is actually doing is ~ completely unconsciously ~ making a grammatical choice: "Shall I use the standard 'them' or the alternative '(h)em'? ~ which will sound better here?"
    Have you ever come across another word beginning th which drops the th in familiar speech? ~ imagine if we all went around saying 'ere, 'eir, 'is, 'ese, 'ose, 'e, and so on ~ there'd be even more chaos than there was in the days of Old English pronouns.
  18. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)

    Funny you should ask - i have heard several people in the US drop the th of "that", especially after the word like : "Something like 'at " but I doubt if it's related to Middle English:D
  19. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    I do know people who say 'ese uns and 'ose uns.
  20. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    'At 'ud be a terrible thing!
  21. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    I've only taken two tiny nibbles out of my hat so far ...

    (For anyone curious this is what Old English 3rd person pronouns looked like: masculine, feminine, neuter, singular and plural, four grammatical cases:
    he, heo, hit, hie; hine, hie, hit, hie; his, hi(e)re, his, hira/heora/hiera; him, hi(e)re, him, him.
    The very last one ~ dative plural ~ is the origin of hem/'em.)
    Last edited: May 6, 2014
  22. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    And according to this chart, the nearest Old English form to them was the demonstrative (plural dative) þǣm (as in "I'm going to give them poachers a piece of my mind"?).

    When they became a personal pronoun, presumably a borrowing from Old Norse, the Old English demonstrative became its oblique form, and the new demonstrative those was coined to create a system in which it was easier to tell personal pronouns from demonstratives and plural personal pronouns from singular ones. I say "easier", but we are still struggling with whether them should replace him in the singular.

    I don't think the more conservative "them" for modern "those" as in nonstandard "them poachers", "dem bones", etc., is ever shortened to "'em", so perhaps this is one more piece of evidence that "'em" must be a relic of the old pronoun "hem", derived from plural "him", not a shortened form of "them", though the meaning is the same (or at least nearly the same).
  23. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    Atta boy!
    (please, don't keep on saying the speakers who drop those 'wh' are "uneducated or drunk". They are normal speakers, just speaking...)
  24. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Erm, who said that, duvija?

    (We're not talking about dropping "wh" here?:confused:)


    EDIT: If you meant "th" rather than "wh" - then I agree with ewie's post 17:).
    Last edited: May 6, 2014
  25. duvija

    duvija Senior Member

    Spanish - Uruguay
    Packard, Keith, etc. I don't mean everybody, just the people who said it.
    It's more stylistic than emphatic... (or at least belonging to a certain register).

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