The sentence is from the book Harry Potter. I can probably get the meaning of the sentence, but the grammar really confuses me, especially the usage of the word as. I could understand if the sentence was written as: It's they that should be sorry! More context:

"Sorry?" barked Hagrid, turning to stare at the Dursleys, who shrank back into the shadows. "It's them as should be sorry! ... ...

Can someone help to explain that sentence structure and grammar point? Thanks!

up vote 41 down vote accepted

This is an older meaning of "as" that is now only found in some dialects. It is a relative conjunction, or perhaps a relative pronoun, and it means "that". It is not standard English (so don't use it). Standard English uses "that".

It is sense 9 in the wiktionary definition as

Rowling uses this to establish the character of Hagrid as it a marker of region (Hagrid is from the West Country), and class (Dumbledore was also West Country or Gloucestershire, but had lost the accent). It marks Hagrid as very different from the way people speak in Little Whinging in Surrey.

Hagrid also uses the object form "them" as the complement of the verb "is". This is standard English, though using the subject form "they" would also be correct. (Saying "It is they" applies Latin grammar, which does always use the nominative case for this)

  • 5
    @dan - Why not? (You should identify the part of the sentence that's prompting you to say that.) – J.R. Jun 13 at 9:14
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    @dan you are right that the grammar books say that 'is' should have the same case either side. However, few of the speakers of the language agree. "Who's there?" // "It's me!", NOT *"It is I". – AakashM Jun 13 at 9:21
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    @dan - The sentence doesn't say, "Them should be sorry." It says, "It's them that should be sorry." And that changes everything. – J.R. Jun 13 at 9:53
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    I've added a paragraph about "them". It's not the subject, it is the complement of "It's", and in standard English this uses the object form "me/him/them". The subject form "I/he/they" is also possible in formal writing. – James K Jun 13 at 13:25
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    Just a note, "It's they that should be sorry" sounds VERY stilted to my ear. I would expect to hear "It's them that should be sorry". – Corvus B Jun 13 at 17:36

People often don't speak grammatically correctly (or standard English, he talks with a west country style).

This is one of those times. Hagrid is a big friendly not very educated person [1], this phrase confirms that.

Your analysis of the meaning is correct.

It's they that should be sorry!

I would actually say: They are the ones who should be sorry!

[1] he was thrown out of Hogwarts early.

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    More to the point, it's non-standard English. Hagrid speaks West Country English, not Standard English. It's not ungrammatical in his dialect. – snailboat Jun 13 at 8:26
  • @snailboat you learn something new every day – WendyG Jun 13 at 8:29
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    i'd call it an antiquated form, rather than strictly ungrammatical. It's a perfectly acceptable [or at least commonly-used] form in Yorkshire too. – Tetsujin Jun 13 at 8:37
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    I guess we're down to common parlance vs what you'd be taught in Grammar school. The further South you go in Yorkshire - eg leave Leeds & travel through Castleford, Pontefract down to Doncaster, Barnsley - the 'older' the language gets. – Tetsujin Jun 13 at 8:44
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    My mother would actually say "Tha's war'n e't bairns" to mean you're worse than the children. – Tetsujin Jun 13 at 8:48

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