From episode 5 of the television series The Walking Dead:

I say we put a pickaxe in his head and the dead girl's and be done with it.
Is that what you'd want if it were you?
Yeah, and I'd thank you while you did it.
I hate to say it. I never thought I would but maybe Daryl's right.
Jim's not a monster, Dale, or some rabid dog.
I'm not suggesting...
He's sick. A sick man. We start down that road, where do we draw the line?
The line's pretty clear. Zero tolerance for walkers, or them to be.
What if we can get him help? I heard the CDC was working on a cure.

How do you understand that part grammatically?

  • 1
    For one that hasn't seen the episode, I must admit, the dialogue seems exasperatingly baffling.
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 11 '15 at 11:28
  • 1
    The dialogue is clear to me (AmEng). I think it would be understood by most native English speakers. Feb 11 '15 at 15:20
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    Them-to-be should really be hyphenated. Without the hyphens, it appears to be a sentence that got cut off (though a fluent speaker can still parse it as intended). In speech, the stresses go like this: “Them to be…” vs. “Them-to-be.”
    – Ben Kovitz
    Feb 12 '15 at 2:19

He's sick. A sick man. We start down that road, where do we draw the line?
The line's pretty clear. Zero tolerance for walkers, or them to be.

The meaning is

Zero tolerance for walkers, or for those who are to become walkers.


Zero tolerance for walkers, or for future walkers.

Compare with

Bride-to-be: a woman who is soon to be married.

We can put walkers in the place of the pronoun "them", and we'll get

Zero tolerance for walkers, or walkers-to-be.


From the grammar standpoint, this seems to be a "postpositive noun modifier".

  • 2
    Is that Southern broken-English grammar? Something along the lines of "I like them apples". 'cause the guy who says it is your typical hilly-billy from the state of Georgia. Feb 11 '15 at 11:43
  • 1
    @CookieMonster - I'm not a Henry Higgins to distinguish between different regions' grammars, but my guess is that words like "father-to-be, bride-to-be, Johnie-come-lately" are known even to hillbillies and hillbillies lack no skill in using such patterns to produce new combinations. Feb 11 '15 at 11:49
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    @CookieMonster Them here is the pronoun, in the objective case as the object of for: "Zero tolerance for them [to be = who will be]". (There are, by the way, no hillbillies in Georgia: the white agricultural underclass there are 'crackers'.) Feb 11 '15 at 12:27
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    @CookieMonster It is certainly not normal, every-day English and, while we understand what it means, most would not use that particular turn of phrase.
    – Catija
    Feb 11 '15 at 15:13

In practice spoken English is different than written English. Listening to the dialog makes sense and flows well, reading it makes it seem awkward and incorrect. Its the evolution of language....

  • 2
    While true in some cases, I'm not sure this answers the question, which was about the grammar and not the flow.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 11 '15 at 23:41
  • Good point. Id say the OP is correct about the grammer being incorrect in this case.
    – person
    Feb 11 '15 at 23:45

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