''A woman from the government said, 'We women are walking with our heads up, and you men will have to put your tails down,' '' Loroupe recalled. (The New York Times)

I know that one subject is enough, but supposing that due to some idiomatic reasons "we women" and "you men" are correct—are they?—, can we infer that each pronoun can be used the same way—i.e., "I woman", "they men" and so on?

For example, can the following sentence be legally pronunced by a woman who is speaking to another woman?

We women know things that they men will never understand.


4 Answers 4


No, you really can't infer that.

The we and you in we women and you men are correct; they are determiners, serving to specify WHICH women and men the speaker is talking about.

In this case, the speaker could have said simply "Women are walking with their heads up, men will have to put their tails down", but using the determiners adds some punch and directness to her address and makes it clear that the speaker is part of the "women" group and the people she is addressing are part of the "men" group.

There are other places where determiners are appropriate, but that does not include going with a singular pronoun, since there is no need to further clarify which individual you are talking about.

In the specific example you give ("we women know things they men will never understand"), they is not really functional as a determiner; you would either leave the pronoun out entirely: we women know things that men will never understand if you mean "all men", or you would say we women know things that those men will never understand if you're talking about a particular group of men.

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    In casual/informal speech, many people would say "Us women know things them men will never understand", though probably most would feel it's at least an "uneducated" usage. I don't think you can explain it away with "rules" though - those who naturally say us won't have a problem using them in the same way, but those who say we don't really have a precise equivalent in this context. It's just established idiomatic usages, I think. Apr 8, 2013 at 21:32
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    @FumbleFingers: Interestingly according to Google NGram, "We women" is consistently more popular than "Us women" (which is also widely used), but "Us men" and "We men" are equivilently common: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Matt
    Apr 8, 2013 at 23:11
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    @FumbleFingers. Using us and them in that context is perhaps best regarded as nonstandard. We women would be standard, and any speaker who used that would almost certainly follow it with those men, although that loses the symmetry of the nonstandard construction. I have said in my own answer that they men would be grammatical, but would probably be avoided for the reason I give. Apr 9, 2013 at 8:33
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    I'm not sure about the analysis of the pronoun as a determiner - isn't it more logical to regard the second noun phrase ("women", etc.) as an apposition here? Isn't this basically the same construct as in "Charles Darwin, the well-known naturalist, (...)" or "Mr. Smith, four times winner of the (whatever) Contest, (...)" ? Apr 9, 2013 at 8:36
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    @reinierpost. I agree, more or less, as I've shown in my answer. We and you are certainly not determiners. Apr 9, 2013 at 8:42

We women know things that they men will never understand.

isn't quite right. they is a pronoun referring to men. You would have to say

We women know things that they will never understand.


We women know things that those men will never understand.


It is not possible to use a determiner with a singular personal pronoun such as I, you(s), or he/she/it although it is grammatical to use a noun phrase in apposition that has a similar effect (although it sounds somewhat old fashioned):

I, the rightful heir to the throne, will retake my kingdom!

You, the son of a billionaire, could never understand the plight of the poor.

Normally a native English speaker would prefer a more idiomatic expression such as the following:

As the rightful heir to the throne, I will retake my kingdom!

As the son of a billionaire, you could never understand the plight of the poor.

They men is also ungrammatical. You can use those men, these men or just men, or possibly a creatively defined subset of men using men who <expr>:

We women have just as much right to vote as men.

We women have just as much right to vote as those men.

We women have just as much right to vote as men who would prefer it if we stayed at home.

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    Mmm ... in your first two examples those sound to me like personal pronouns followed by noun phrases in apposition rather than determiners followed by the noun phrases they govern. Apr 8, 2013 at 20:34
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    I agree with this, but it doesn't really answer the question: it doesn't explain why "We women" is more acceptable than "They men". Perhaps this construct has partially leaked over from German? In German, "Wir Frauen", "Du Feigling" etc. are perfectly normal. Apr 9, 2013 at 11:21
  • @reinierpost: The reasons why the language has got like this is an etymology question, not a English learning one. For English learners the simple rule is that it is not allowed. If you want a more in depth answer, try ELU.SE.
    – Matt
    Apr 9, 2013 at 16:11

In we women and you men, we and you remain pronouns. They are not determiners. Women and men, in the words of the ‘Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English’, simply ‘make the reference more explicit’. The Longman Grammar’s own examples are We all and We Americans.

On those grounds, We women know things that they men will never understand is grammatical, but is probably best avoided because of the risk that they men will be taken as a solecism in place of those.

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