1

Which of these is used correctly?

  1. It were them.

  2. It was them.

  3. It was they.

  4. It were they.

I actually think the "it" is an expletive indicator so noun is whether them or they and since both are plural, the correct one should be 1 or 4. Is that right?

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  • A syntactic expletive by definition contributes nothing to the sentence's meaning. Sentences 1 and 4 of your examples are not valid English because "it" is singular (in these cases, implicitly acting as a pronoun representing an agent responsible for an act). Therefore the word "it" contributes meaning to the sentence. A better example of the syntactic expletive is found in the statement, "It will rain tomorrow." In this example, "it" has no meaning. – R Mac Aug 31 '16 at 15:22
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    I expect there are still one or two people left who would argue that the copula should take the nominative, and use 'It was they'. Everyone else will ignore them and use 'It was them.' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 31 '16 at 15:36
  • Yeah, I have stumbled upon some sources that say it should be "they" nevertheless it would not be important in colloquial speech but one should consider the variations of grammar in very formal or legal documents I guess. – aintnosunshine Aug 31 '16 at 15:45
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    @EdwinAshworth Haha, that sounds about right to me. They are actually both correct depending on context, though, as "nominative" isn't really the right way to view the form. Instead, consider the difference as subjective as opposed to objective. While both are appropriate for that very simple sentence structure, the difference in meaning between the two is vast--a feature which, by and large, is ignored by the English speaking demographic at large, many of whom will use whichever they darn well please as though the two are perfectly interchangeable. – R Mac Aug 31 '16 at 15:55
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    Except in a very limited context (like as a short answer to a long question), all of those sentences are ungrammatical. Dummy it does not occur by itself. It is always a part of a construction -- Extraposition in this case -- that involves several constituents of the sentence, and makes no sense outside that construction. – John Lawler Aug 31 '16 at 16:02
1

If the subject is the action then It was done by them, as in 2. It was them.

If the subject is the actor then It was they who did it, as in 3. It was they.

If the action took place in a remote part of Yorkshire then either way, it might be acceptable to use It were them.

0

From my comment on the question itself:

A syntactic expletive by definition contributes nothing to the sentence's meaning. Sentences 1 and 4 of your examples are not valid English because "it" is singular (in these cases, implicitly acting as a pronoun representing an agent responsible for an act). Therefore the word "it" contributes meaning to the sentence. A better example of the syntactic expletive is found in the statement, "It will rain tomorrow." In this example, "it" has no meaning.

Edited for an answer format:

Sentences 1 and 4 of your examples are not valid English because "it" is singular (in these cases, implicitly acting as a pronoun representing an agent responsible for an act).

That said, "syntactic expletive" by definition means the expletive contributes no meaning to the sentence overall. In these cases, the word "it" presumably acts as a pronoun representing an agent responsible for an act, if the context of the example can be inferred to be a response to a question asking who or what did something. For the sentences in question, then, the word "it" contributes necessary meaning and is not an example of syntactic expletive.

-1

In a comment on the question, John Lawler answered:

Except in a very limited context (like as a short answer to a long question), all of those sentences are ungrammatical. Dummy it does not occur by itself. It is always a part of a construction — Extraposition in this case — that involves several constituents of the sentence, and makes no sense outside that construction.

  • This is not an example of use of "dummy it" (i.e., syntactic expletive). The word "it" serves a purpose in each of the given examples (or those which are otherwise grammatically correct, anyway), markedly different from true examples of syntactic expletive, such as, "It was not nice for him to steal the child's candy." Note that this sentence can be rewritten with use of "it", as, "For him to steal the child's candy was not nice," well illustrating the argument that the word "it" serves no purpose here. – R Mac Aug 31 '16 at 17:28

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