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Is there a plural of this phrase that preserves the sprachgefühl?

The obvious "those are my boys" somehow doesn't feel right.

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Would you be saying the phrase to the boys, or pointing out the boys to a third party? –  IQAndreas Jul 10 at 22:22
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I suspect to a third-party. Addressed to the boy(s) could be "Attaboy!" or "Attaboy, boys!" –  Ben Voigt Jul 10 at 22:55
    
@IQAndreas Ideally both, otherwise the latter. –  Carlster Jul 10 at 23:25
    
Actually, in the context I wanted to use it in, it wasn't really adressed to anyone - it was more of a jubilant exclamation. –  Carlster Jul 10 at 23:29
    
Those are my boys seems fine to me. (This is still a fair question, though.) –  J.R. Jul 11 at 2:18

10 Answers 10

up vote 25 down vote accepted

I'd feel fine saying or hearing "That's my boys!".

"That's my boy!" is literally a prideful expression of the exclaimer's relationship to a single boy which also implies some degree of personal responsibility for or shared ownership of the boy's success which prompted the exclamation.

"That's my boys!" implies the same degree of pride and personal connection as it sounds similar to the well-known singular form. However, its literal meaning is different: it's more like an abbreviation, e.g. of "That's [how] my boys [do it]!", or "That's [what] my boys [can do]!". These statements emphasize the ease and regularity with which said boys perform successfully. I find that the singular form can actually be exclaimed with this meaning in mind as well (e.g. "That's [how] my boy [does it]!").

This pluralization of the phrase has the benefit of also fitting the phonetic pattern of the singular form as it has the same number of syllables and can be exclaimed with the same sing-songy inflections in pitch.

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I thought of this [that's my boys], too, yet I also thought it was wrong - but with this "justification" it's perfect! –  Carlster Jul 10 at 20:40
    
"That's my boys" is fine, so long as "that" is understood to be some common trait or feature (singular) they share (and the parent is proud of). If the original that's my boy meant "that particular young male is my son", the correct pluralization would be those are my boys. –  Phil Perry Jul 11 at 16:38
    
I agree that this is a common plural of the phrase, but I disagree with the explanation. I think the meaning of both is the same, and that "That's my boy" is idiomatic enough that the literal interpretation is not considered by most speakers. Hence there is a less impulse to make it grammatically correct, especially since it would mess up the rhythm. It is slang, after all, and thus a different register of speech. Grammatical correctness is much more valued in "higher" registers. –  trlkly Jul 12 at 19:51
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"That's my boys" is more accurate in context. Typically, you would introduce or passively point out "These/those are my boys." But the phrase "That's my boys" would almost immediately follow some action done by these boys. "That's" is actually referring to the action not the boys. I would also point out that the phrase does not necessarily imply pride in the boys. It implies something that is characteristic of the boys, not your pride in the characteristic. –  fredsbend Jul 13 at 6:01
    
@trlkly I think your reasoning here neglects the original question, which is for a pluralization of this phrase that preserves its sprachgefühl, i.e. the sense of its linguistic validity. The number of people who don't consider the literal meaning of the phrase is irrelevant to this question, in my opinion. –  talrnu Jul 14 at 3:59

I'd go with "Them's my boys!"

It is not "grammatical" but it preserves the casual and dialectical feel of the original, as well as the prosodic features.

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"Them's me boys!" -- then :-) –  Mikhail T. Jul 10 at 23:34
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Them's me thoughts too! –  CarSmack Jul 11 at 2:17
    
I'd actually argue this feels more grammatical. It's just using a slang usage of "them." Replacing "them's" with the proper "they're" would change the meaning of the sentence completely. Them is a common slang plural of "that." Consider also "Them's my boots." It means "Those are my boots," not "They are my boots." –  trlkly Jul 12 at 19:56
    
On second thought, I should have upvoted this, since "Feels more grammatical" means it has more sprachgefühl in the second sense given in the Question (intuitive correctness), and the dialectical feel is there which fits the first sense (quality of the language). –  trlkly Jul 14 at 4:25

You can just try : "My boys !"

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That sounds more like “Oh no! My boys! They're inside that burning building!” to me, or something along those lines. –  svick Jul 13 at 14:37

If the questioner is using "That's my boy" to indicate that a certain action or behaviour, such as a comment, which has just taken place is highly characteristic and representative of the male person to whom it refers then more appropriate than "those" or "them's" would be "That's my boys".

"That's my boys" effectively says "That's typical of my boys", "That's the way my boys are", "That's how it is with my boys".

It should be noted that in this scenario the phrase may not actually refer to the speaker's child, in the same way that "Go on my son" is often used between male friends.

An example conversation where such use of the phrase would fit well might be where a woman hears from a friend that her husband and son were seen returning from a football game, cheering victoriously and waving their scarves. The thought of this scene is one that amuses and touches emotionally - and seems both familiar and unquestionable - so the women smiles and says "Ahh yes... that's my boys!"

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I thought of this [that's my boys], too, yet I also thought it was wrong - but with this "justification" it's perfect! (If it wasn't for talrnu's answer, yours it would be.) –  Carlster Jul 10 at 20:39

If the intended sense of "That's my boy" is "Well done young man!", then a colloquial plural version, certainly in the UK, would be "Good lads!" The problem with "Them's my boys" as a plural version is that it only makes sense if said to someone other than the boys in question, whereas with the singular "That's my boy" is typically used as praise to the boy in question.

On the other hand, if the intended sense of "That's my boy" is "That person there is my son", then a plural is simply "Those are my boys".

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I don't think any sprachgefühl is lost when you make it plural. I can't say I've heard someone exclaim "those are my boys" as much I have heard "that's my boy." I think the feeling that is usually conveyed by this expression is one of boastfullness. Is that the sprachgefühl you were going for? By the way, sprachgefühl is a very cool word--thanks for introducing it to me. I'm going to have to integrate it into my lexicon.

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I just thought its [boastfulness] goes hand in hand with the phrase's conciseness, which I consider lost in my example. –  Carlster Jul 10 at 19:12
    
Though it's not common to write out a contraction of "those" and "are," verbally, you can achieve the same concise feel if you pronounce it like "those're." –  Obfuskater Jul 10 at 19:16
    
@Obfuskater: I think the informal verbal contraction of "those are" is "them's". –  supercat Jul 11 at 20:48
    
@supercat: I've heard "them's" before, and it wouldn't hurt to understand it, but I would never instruct a learner of English to say that. It's ungrammatical and its informality and jokey feel gives it a very limited usage. –  Obfuskater Jul 11 at 21:37

I think it worth mentioning that this particular idiom is paralleled, at my guess is preceeded by, "attaboy". This, in turn is from Titus Andronicus saying, "That's my boy" as a reference to his son. In that context, it would probably be more accurate to say that the plural is "that's my boys." That said, the common modern (American?) plural is either "Those're my boys!" or "Them's my [or me] boys".

Strictly speaking, though, when you move from singular to plural, the original would have been, "that's my boys" or perhaps, "there're my boys".

Again, though, in SAE, "Those're my boys!" is a perfectly acceptable plural.

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If you're telling someone that the young men in question are your children, then "Those are my boys" sounds right to my Midwestern ear.

If you're telling someone that you are proud of the achievement(s) or accomplishment(s) of these young men then "That's my boys!" would sound right. If addressing the young men directly, though, I'd probably use "Good job, boys!".

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"That's my boy! is an expression probably loved as much at the boy himself.

Learn it, love it and keep it in your armoury of English idioms to be used at some precious moment.

You modify these things at your peril. So the answer is "no". Alas, there is no a plural of this phrase that preserves the sprachgefühl.

-But I bet some of the smart people on Stack Exchange can come up with something you mean -but using entirely different words.

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replace 'boy' -> 'boys' with a different noun and try it out.

that's my dollar!
that's my dollars!
those're my dollars!

for me 'those are' wins in most cases.

EDIT: hopefully this adds value:

i would like to suggest, however, that whether to use 'that' or 'those' depends on whether you're referring to the actual nouns in question, or rather a single effect caused by the nouns.

if someone had individual dollars laid out on a table, and inquired as to who owns them, i could reasonably say:

those're my dollars!

if someone were to complement me about a wise purchase or investment i made, i could reasonably say:

that's my dollars!

as i'm basically saying

that effect or event we're talking about was caused by my dollars.

in the case of actual boys, two different scenarios hopefully clarify what i'm trying to convey

someone points to a male sports team and asks their coach who they are. he says:

those're my boys

the same male sports team wins the game. in celebration, the coach says:

that's my boys

both are correct in the situation they appear in. first one is about "who are these individuals?", second is about "i am speaking about the effect [winning the game] caused by the individuals as a unit".

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Are you sure that is a valid analogy? –  Carlster Jul 10 at 23:21
    
i don't see why not. boy and dollar are both simple nouns used in phrases where they're each the object of possession. –  jrrs Jul 11 at 2:00
    
Oh, I see now what the misunderstanding is - I haven't expressed myself clearly enough: I was solely referring to the second "scenario" (see my comment under the question). –  Carlster Jul 11 at 2:36
    
I wouldn't have come here for the first "scenario" ;) –  Carlster Jul 11 at 2:47

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