Poor them, who hate chocolates. – V.V.

This message was posted a bit ago on Language Overflow, and proved to be more interesting than usual. I wonder if it's grammatical, strictly speaking.

The "[P]oor them" part is grammatical, since the objective sense is used in these exclamatory constructions. My main issue was with the apposition (i.e. the "who hate chocolates" part).

Is the sentence grammatical? Is the who-clause an appositive?

  • The problem with poor them is that it is unlikely anyone would say it, so it becomes a technical discussion. More likely "(those) poor people", "(those) poor souls". etc. would be used.
    – user3169
    Jun 15, 2016 at 22:37
  • Is poor an adjective or verb here? @V.V. Jun 19, 2016 at 15:14
  • @AlanCarmack vv probably won't get a ping from ur comment, but what makes me think is that why you think it's a verb here? Jun 19, 2016 at 16:17
  • @Alan why would it be a verb? Note that this is a minor clause and does not need a verb to a complete sentence.
    – M.A.R.
    Jun 19, 2016 at 17:40
  • Because it is not impossible that it is a verb, strictly speaking. Jun 19, 2016 at 19:50

3 Answers 3

  • Poor him.

  • Poor them.

  • Lucky you.

All are standalone sentence, and are used for the purpose of exclamation. They are grammatical and correct. The structure is like this

Adjective + Object form of Personal Pronoun

Normally in today's English no relative construction/clause is used as a modifier for that personal pronoun in that construction. In today's English one might write the sentence OP mentioned -

  • They hate chocolates. Poor them!

But the main question is - Whether using a modifier in the form of relative clause for that pronoun is really grammatical?

Well, as far as I can say similar construction with relative clause as an apposition or modifier was in use in older usage.

Let's look at these examples -

  • Happy they who desire no other consolation. (Year: 1829)
    [Aside - Why it's they? Probably it's a hyper-correction. To choose between the subject or object form, they choose the subject form over the object form because the who in the relative clause indicates a subject form.]

  • Happy he who is blest with such a sister! (Year: 1853)

Yet I think such constructions were very few in those days also. One reason I can guess is that this is susceptible to hyper-correction, a writer will have a hard time choosing between the subject form or the object form of the pronoun.


In view of that I wouldn't call OP's example sentence ungrammatical.

  • Poor them, who hate chocolates!

All I will do is avoid writing or speaking similar sentence or ask students not to write similar thing. Reconstruct it the other way.

Remember that there are examples that were as grammatical at those times as it's at present time that are not a standalone sentence, but a part of the sentence, those examples that have the similar construction as adjective + personal pronoun.

Just think of poor me who seem to have no reasoning faculty at all in these matters.

But OP is asking only for that construction where it's a standalone sentence.

  • These are modern examples from the Internet.
    – V.V.
    Jun 19, 2016 at 22:09
  • Lucky them who can admire her feet so closely. “So what happens when there is no below?” “Lucky them who are in the higher planes.” Lucky them who can afford a month’s stay in the diaspora and i bet at our expense when the majority our own expectant mothers in Zimbabwe are failing... Lucky them who have ANDROID or Ios. KYC is not an option, its required in all EU. Its Amazing to see a turnover of 15 bilj$ in 16 month. Lucky them who join early.
    – V.V.
    Jun 19, 2016 at 22:09
  • @V.V. Thank you for all those example sentences. Where did you find them? Actually I had a hard time finding anything similar :( Jun 20, 2016 at 0:24

Poor them, who hate chocolates — this sentence has two distinct parts:

  1. Poor them.

It is a declarative statement (They are poor.ie. pitiable or, simply, hapless depraved souls) ridden of its tensed structure. It is cast in the mould of a free standing accusative pronoun (default case) where a handful of adjectives (lucky/poor/ silly) can qualify pronouns even attributively and the structure now gains in intensity magnifying their utter callousness to chocolates.

  1. who hate chocolates — a relative clause referring to the antecedent, "them".

The first part should better be regarded as a VPE along with a transformation which requires change of nominative to accusative.

  • 2
    Excuse my ignorance, but what does "VPE" stand for? "Very Poor English"? "Vast Praise Energy"?
    – M.A.R.
    Jun 18, 2016 at 19:44
  • It is verb phrase elision. Thanks for the interest shown to the answer. Jun 18, 2016 at 19:47

Poor them, who hate chocolates.

The who-clause is not an appositive. An appositive is a description of a noun, that works with the noun. For example:

Chocolates, a sweet delight.

In this case, a sweet delight renames the adjacent noun and so is an appositive.

Poor them, who hate chocolates.

The structure of this sentence can be explained through Subject Complement Agreement

The Subject Complement follows a linking verb. For example:

Poor me, hating chocolate

I am the subject and "chocolate" follows a linking verb (to hate) and so is the subject compliment.

The phrase in question is Subject Complement Agreement

Poor them, who hate chocolates.

Subject Complement Agreement comes into play when plurals are involved, either the subject is plural or the subject compliment is plural or both are plural.

The confusion comes when you apply a plural compliment to a plural subject, do both subjects hate both compliments? Does one subject hate one compliment and vice versa? The answer is that this phrase is acceptable but ambiguous. A better phrase would make it clear exactly which subject hates exactly which complement. For example:

Poor them, who both unanimously hate all chocolates

Poor them, who each hate a specific flavor of chocolate

  • 5
    I'm afraid not. who hate chocolate is a relative clause: who stands for the deleted subject, they, hate is a transitive verb, not a linking verb, and chocolates, meaning "chocolate candies" not "different flavors of chocolate" is its direct object. And I think the sense is clearly that all people who hate chocolates are to be pitied. Jun 15, 2016 at 9:59
  • @StonyB Isn't (who hate chocolate) an adjunct? If so, can it be used for an exclamatory phrase? Poor them!, Who hate chocolate. It's odd. Poor them who hate chocolate. Ungrammatical, eclamatory phrase doesn't stand as the subject. I'm perpelexed!!!
    – user33000
    Jun 15, 2016 at 10:27
  • I have never caught a sight of subject complements with "who".
    – M.A.R.
    Jun 15, 2016 at 11:09

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