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The boys walk through the crowds with junkie stuff being sold at stations on either side of them.

I have got stuck in the above sentence. I am not sure to which noun the pronoun them is connected. Is it crowds, stations or boys?

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  • OW, OW, I vote for "boys"!
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 10, 2015 at 12:35
  • Where did you find this phrase? - In the United States, the word junkie usually means "person addicted to narcotics." When I read "junkie stuff being sold at stations," I pictured booths full of needles, crack pipes and butane lighters. If I were going for the meaning the author is (probably?) after, "low quality, low value," I would write "junky." It is a much less common word; I would probably use "trashy" instead. That carries its own idiomatic baggage ("of low moral standards with regard to sexual activity"), but the "low quality, low value" meaning is also commonly used.
    – Adam
    Feb 10, 2015 at 17:19
  • It is from my comic book South Park, including episodes Good times with weapons and Cartman gets an anal probe. The quotation is from the former one. Junkie stuff is in this comic a sort of firecrackers for children.
    – bart-leby
    Feb 10, 2015 at 20:04
  • 1
    that would be 'junky' stuff as @Adam said - big difference between 'cheap toys for children' & 'smokers' requisites for the discerning drug addict' ;) Feb 11, 2015 at 9:21
  • The proofreader of the comic probably failed.
    – bart-leby
    Feb 11, 2015 at 10:00

2 Answers 2

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The boys.

The boys walk through the crowds with junkie stuff being sold at stations on either side of them.

I've emboldened the main clause, and italicized the subordinate clause.

The word them can only refer to the subject or one of the objects in this sentence:

  1. The boys (subject)
  2. The crowds (object)
  3. The junkie stuff (object)

The station is not an object in this sentence because nothing is being acted upon it. So which of the above three choices is them referring to?

It can't be the junkie stuff, because that's what's located on either side of them.

It can't be the crowds because they were the object in the previous clause, not the subordinate clause.

So it has to be the boys.

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The sentence is hard to parse because it is incorrectly punctuated.

Could them refer to the "junkie stuff" or "stations"? No, that makes no sense.

Could them refer to "the crowds"? It's logically unlikely, but that is what the punctuation leads you to conclude. There is no comma after crowds, so with junkie stuff being sold at stations on either side of them, at first interpretation, seems to modify crowds.

In contrast, consider a correctly punctuate sentence:

The boys walk through the crowds, with junkie stuff being sold at stations on either side of them.

Now it is clearer that the second half of the sentence adds detail to the main clause in general.

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