My question arose after I have completed this quiz: https://www.sporcle.com/games/g/common_english_words (I do use Sporcle a lot).

The quiz is amazing and very nice to play. However, a question appeared in my mind: why are some letter strings sometimes treated as two different words but sometimes as the same word? The author indeed did a great job when he/she listed 100 most common English words. But I wonder what criteria he/she used.

For example, look at "they" and "them". Or "she" and "her" et cetera. As you see, the words "they" and "them" occupy two distinct slots.

On the other hand, if you try to enter "am", or "are", or "is" (or "has", "had" etc.) [after you have already entered "be" or "have" respectively], then nothing happens. I guess this is not because these verbs aren't among 100 most popular words (I think they are!) but just because "am", "are" and "is" are treated as forms of the verb "be" ("to be"). But if this is essentially the same word, why isn't it the case for "they" and "them"? The words "they" and "them" clearly have the same basic meaning, they both are pronouns. Also, they have one common initial sound and share three letters in common, out of four total. For comparison, the verb forms "be", "am" and "is" share no identical sounds or letters at all.

  • They mean the same thing, but they are used differently. They is used for the subject and them is used for the object.
    – Davo
    Jun 5, 2019 at 12:50

2 Answers 2


In situations like this, it's entirely arbitrary whether two words count as separate words or not. Clearly "they" and "them" are two different words - they don't even use the same letters. "Am" and "be" are two different words as well - the quiz writer simply decided to count them as the same since they're conjugations of the same word (be). "They" and "them" aren't conjugations, they're used in different situations (subject vs object).

  • On the contrary, they and them are one of the few remnants of declension (rather than conjugaton) in English. They and them are the same word to precisely the same degree as am and are are the same word.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 5, 2019 at 14:05
  • @ColinFine What exactly is your comment contrary to? I never said they and them were more separate than am and be, simply that the quiz author decided as such. Jun 6, 2019 at 15:00
  • I was disagreeing with your last sentence.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 6, 2019 at 17:32

From syntactic point of view, "they" and "them" are two different words. But from lexical point of view they are different instances of the same base word. So whether they are different word or the same word simply depends on how you treat it and your point of view.

In lexical point of view, they are different instances of the same Lexeme.

So "hard" and "harder" are two different words of the same Lexeme. Similarly "they" and "them" are two different words of the same Lexeme.

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