What does "they" indicate in the below passage? "Nonsense and silliness"? or "kids"? or "adults"? By any chance, if "they" means "adults", does the sentence seem right to you English native speakers in terms of context?

Probably the biggest roadblock to play for adults is the worry that they will look silly, improper, or dumb if they allow themselves to truly play. Or they think that it is irresponsible, immature, and childish to give themselves regularly over to play. (Nonsense and silliness come naturally to kids, but they get pounded out by norms that look down on “frivolity.”)

  • [in the passage below]
    – Lambie
    Mar 2, 2021 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


Nonsense and silliness come naturally to kids, but they get pounded out by norms that look down on “frivolity.”

They refers to "nonsense and silliness." You ask a good question, because it seems like they could refer to "kids." And yes, "adults" is also a plural noun in the previous sentence. To figure this out, you must understand the context. Adults and children cannot be "pounded out," so it must be "nonsense and silliness."

Pound out is a phrasal verb that means to "make something quickly" or to "play a musical instrument loudly." (See here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pound%20out) However, there is a more literal meaning, which is to "smash something flat," like removing a dent from metal with a hammer. You can pound out the dent. Or pound the dent out of the metal. I believe that is the intended meaning here.

The "norms" are the societal beliefs that an adult who plays like a child is doing something bad. Society takes children's playfulness and smashes it flat over time. Eventually the child grows up and becomes a "serious" adult. Sounds pretty sad to me!

This paragraph is difficult to understand. It's a bit unusual to say that norms can pound out a child's playfulness. "Norms" don't even have arms and they don't own hammers -- unless you happen to know two or more guys named "Norm." But there are other similar metaphors in English. People sometimes say they are "ground down" like a piece of wood or metal. Or that life "chews people up and spits them out." Or societal norms can "weigh on someone's shoulders." Again, a little depressing!

  • I really appreciate your answer. By the way, the passage I posted is followed by this sentence. "This is particularly true for people who have been valued for performance standards set by parents or the educational system, or measured by other cultural norms that are internalized and no longer questioned." Q1. What does "this" stand for here? Q2. What's the meaning of "for" in "have been valued for performance"? Is there any other interchangeable preposition for "for" here? Thank you so much.
    – mystery
    Mar 2, 2021 at 8:02
  • This refers to "this thought" or "this idea" -- basically, the entire previous sentence. The second sentence means: People who have performed well (in school, or in life) consider this idea to be very true.
    – Ringo
    Mar 2, 2021 at 17:49
  • Thank you again. I understand the meaning of the second sentence but I still can't figure out the usage of the preposition "for" in "who have been valued for performance standards". Let me change it this way to clarify my question. "People are valued for some standards" means "People are valued by some standards" or "People are valued because of some standards" or something else?
    – mystery
    Mar 3, 2021 at 2:07
  • It's a poorly-written sentence, in my opinion. But let me try to explain. There are people like teachers or supervisors who measure the performance of the people -- through tests or examinations or work reviews or whatever. These teachers and supervisors value the parents' performance. However, a better verb would be "evaluate," not "value." These teachers and supervisors give tests and tasks and performance reviews that evaluate skills and hammer the playfulness out of the student / employee. Students and employees who do well in standards (tests and reviews) tend to think playfulness is bad.
    – Ringo
    Mar 3, 2021 at 3:40
  • People who have been valued for performance standards means People who have been valued for their good performance. The sentence is terrible, because it's not even true.
    – Ringo
    Mar 3, 2021 at 3:41

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