What is the difference between 'em and them?

I saw my friend writing,

Lets Kick'em.

But I don't know what it means and if it is correct to use. Could you help me?

  • 3
    'em, as you observed, is a short form of 'them' in spoken language. In this case your friend wrote 'em to inflect the pronunciation in writing. – user1513 May 13 '14 at 13:29
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    It might be better to write "Let's kick 'em." or even better "Let's kick them." As for 'em, it is "a way of writing "them" that shows how it sounds in informal conversation". – Damkerng T. May 13 '14 at 15:07

It's a contracted, or shortened, form of "them" that's used in conversation, much in the same way that "gonna" is often used to mean "going to". In your quote, there should be a space, so: "Let's kick 'em." The apostrophe is to show a contraction.

So yes, it's correct to use, and often used in conversation. However, if you are writing it, it should only be used to directly quote someone who has said it.

  • 4
    Worth noting that it's quite informal. – KRyan May 13 '14 at 19:19
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    @KRyan It is quite informal in writing. In speech it is the way virtually everyone in the US pronounces unstressed them, whatever register they are employing. – StoneyB on hiatus May 14 '14 at 3:17

First of all, 'em can mean him, her or them (as a direct or indirect object).

As such, it is not actually a contraction or abbreviation of "them."

From Old English inflection survivors

The 'em is an oral survival of the Old English dative pronoun him, either singular or plural. Contrary to what you may have learned elsewhere, it is not a contraction of them.

See also the OED:

Originally the dative plural third person personal pronoun form, cognate with Old Frisian him

As a so-called "oral survivor," it is best used only in informal speech, either spoken or written.

  • I agree with you: most of the time it means "them". However, to say that this is not the case because Old English Inflection Survivors gives an alternative derivation strikes me as illogical, since as you have said both derivations may be valid. The OED examples are examples of contracting the word "them", not the word "him", given that we often use "them" or "they" to mean a singular noun of either masculine or feminine gender. When I use "'em", I always mean "them". If I want to say "him", I say "'im", and if I want to say "her" I say "'er". – BobRodes Jun 10 '15 at 17:29
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    I didn't say both derivations are possible. The fact that 'em can mean him or her shows that it is not a contraction of the word them. – user6951 Jun 10 '15 at 18:57
  • A logical analogue to your argument is to say that the fact that there is chocolate ice cream shows that there can't also be chocolate cake. I know you didn't say both derivations are possible; I did. – BobRodes Jun 14 '15 at 1:52
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    @user6951 - I don't think 'em is ever used for him or her. Your list of contracted kicks would be kick'em (kick them), kick'im (kick him), and kick'er (kick her). – EllieK Apr 16 at 17:08
  • @EllieK with spaces, though, right? (Kick 'em, etc.) What you're saying is borne out by pronunciation, too. (Enough kicking) "Take 'em out" and "take 'im out" I pronounce differently. And obviously, "take 'er out" is even more different, having an r instead of an m sound. – BobRodes Apr 17 at 6:16

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