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How do you pronounce stressed them?
September 14, 2007 12:00 PM   Subscribe

How do you pronounce them when it's stressed? For instance, "Don't give it to me, give it to THEM."

I pronounce the stressed them so that it rhymes with bum. I'm trying to get a sense whether this is idiosyncratic with me, or whether it's a dialectical thing (and if so, which dialect).

I expect there to be some variation, but get the sense most people will pronounce it to rhyme with hem. Though maybe not.

So, how do you pronounce it?
posted by Inigo Jones to Writing & Language (58 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Rhyme with hem. I've never heard it the bum way.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:02 PM on September 14, 2007


I'm a rhymes-with-gem guy.
posted by mpls2 at 12:02 PM on September 14, 2007


Hem
posted by notsnot at 12:03 PM on September 14, 2007


I say them like hem. I have never heard "thum."
posted by ALongDecember at 12:03 PM on September 14, 2007


hem
posted by puritycontrol at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2007


I definitely only ever pronounce "them" as rhyming with "hem" or "gem".

I don't think I have ever heard it rhyme with "bum". So it sounds like thumb when you say it?
posted by tastybrains at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2007


I've heard they-em, but it's less common.
posted by electroboy at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2007


hem
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2007


(Grew up in Ohio, starting sixth year in Massachusetts)

Stressed, rhymes with "hem". Unstressed, rhymes with "bum", especially if I'm talking fast.
posted by olinerd at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2007


Rhymes with hem, since it ends in h-e-m.

thum? wtf?
posted by jeffxl at 12:11 PM on September 14, 2007


Themmmm. Extra emphasis with trail-off "m".
posted by Xere at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2007


Rhymes with "hem," both stressed and not. I have heard "they-um" in the south.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2007


You're doing it wrong.

It rhymes with "hem."
posted by bshort at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2007


In an unstressed usage, it could sort of rhyme with bum, but it would be the 'shwa' sound, commonly sybolized with the upside-down letter 'e'.

See more here: http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vangogh/555/Spell/shwa.htm
posted by OilPull at 12:17 PM on September 14, 2007


After talking to myself for a bit, I realized I say "thum" unstressed, but really if I typed it, I would type it as "I talked to 'em". Stressed, I pronounce it rhyming with "hem".
posted by lain at 12:18 PM on September 14, 2007


Instead of thinking that it rhymes with "thum", think of it as saying 'em.
posted by lain at 12:19 PM on September 14, 2007


Austin, here.

Rhymes with hem.

I've never heard the other way. Can you record yourself saying it? (I'm 95% "just curious" and 5% "willing to admit that part of me likes to laugh at accents".)
posted by 23skidoo at 12:21 PM on September 14, 2007


For the curious and thum-unbelieving, here is a recording of how I say it.
posted by Inigo Jones at 12:23 PM on September 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Southern California here. "Hem," because it's stressed, and I'd replace the "oo" sound in "to" with a schwa. If "to" was stressed, I'd pronounce it normally, and make "them" into something like "thum"--not exactly rhyming with "bum", not exactly a schwa, but somewhere around there. The correct sounds for "them" and "to" are so far away from each other, so whichever is less important gets altered.

(There's a term for this, isn't there? Umlaut or ablaut or something?)
posted by equalpants at 12:27 PM on September 14, 2007


Yeah that's weird. I'd probably call you on it.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:28 PM on September 14, 2007


I'm a speaker of California English, and it definitely rhymes with 'hem'.

I did have a friend who said 'thum' -- she was from Nova Scotia originally. Are you of Canadian background, perchance?
posted by Malor at 12:32 PM on September 14, 2007


Even if the vowel were the same the th is different from thumb - thumb has a voiced interdental fricative, where them is unvoiced.

compare: the initial sounds in thistle and in this
posted by aubilenon at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2007


If I was putting the emphasis solely on "them", I would say it so that it rhymes with "hem". I'd also be stressing "me". However, if I was shouting, "Give it to them!" or "talking about them", it would sound like "thum". I'm from BC.
posted by acoutu at 12:40 PM on September 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm with olinerd. Unstressed thum, stressed them. But thum doesn't sound like thumb because it's really a schwa sound, as OilPull says. These are wikipedia's schwa examples:

like the 'a' in about /əˈbaʊt/
like the 'e' in taken /ˈteɪkən/ and the /ðə/ (if before a consonant)
like the 'i' in pencil /ˈpensəl/
like the 'o' in eloquent /ˈeləkwənt/
like the 'u' in circus /ˈsɜː(ɹ)kəs/
like the 'y' in sibyl /ˈsɪbəl/

and I basically pronounce the schwa'd vowel in those words the same way I pronounce the e in an unstressed "them" at the end of a phrase like "Give it to them," which I either say as "Give it to thəm" or "Give it to 'əm." In a sentence like "Is this for me or them?" it rhymes with hem.
posted by blueshammer at 12:41 PM on September 14, 2007


aubile: the voicedness of th isn't in question; it's voiced in them for me, just like everyone else. What's in question is the quality of the vowel.
posted by Inigo Jones at 12:42 PM on September 14, 2007


If I were stressing them I would rhyme them with hem.
If I were stressing give I would rhyme them with hum.
posted by iconomy at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2007


The more I say it to myself, the more it sounds like it rhymes with "gym".
posted by roll truck roll at 12:54 PM on September 14, 2007


It's common in England to pronounce "them" as thum and the stressed version as them rhyming with "hem". I pronounce both the last way though and it's in the volume and intonation.
posted by wackybrit at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2007


hem
posted by dismas at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2007


i rhyme with "hem" too. i am american, mostly unaccented with the occasional southernism (like, dan rather has a stronger accent than me).

what is your background? it might help to determine if it's a regional accent or a personal quirk if we had more info.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:00 PM on September 14, 2007


Huh? Why would you change the pronounciation based on italics?
posted by agregoli at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2007


Or rather, in this case, uppercase.
posted by agregoli at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2007


from iconomy: If I were stressing them I would rhyme them with hem.
If I were stressing give I would rhyme them with hum.


I just realized this is true for me as well! I can hear myself being stern with my children saying, "Give thum back to your brother!"
posted by Sassyfras at 1:15 PM on September 14, 2007


My background: Born in Latin America, moved to US (New Jersey) at age 2. Lived in New Jersey until age 7. Moved to Miami, FL and lived there until college.

There is a Miami accent of English (spoken by native English speakers who grew up in Miami, not necessarily immigrants), that I and other Miamians can identify, but as far as I can tell and others have told me, I don't have it. Generally, I think I have a fairly standard American accent ("how they talk on TV").
posted by Inigo Jones at 1:19 PM on September 14, 2007


iconomy and sassyfras: As far as I can tell, that's a fairly standard schwa-ing of the vowel in an unstressed word. According to John C. McWhorter, you're supposed to talk that way.
posted by Inigo Jones at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2007


Out of curiousity, when you pronounce "there" does it rhyme with "air" or "car"?

(Needless to say, I'm a "hem" kind of themmer.)
posted by alms at 1:24 PM on September 14, 2007


alms: air
posted by Inigo Jones at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2007


Listened to your recording, and I don't think it sounds that odd (and I say this as a "rhymes with 'hem'" speaker).
I hear some minnesota, wisconsin, or canada in your pronunciation, I think.

And as for all the "You're doing it wrong" or "That's weird" comments-- I'll eat my shoes if there isn't a feature of your speech that would strike certain English speakers as strange!
posted by Rykey at 1:39 PM on September 14, 2007


Nthing unstressed thum, stressed them
posted by Reggie Digest at 1:44 PM on September 14, 2007


(It's really more of a th'm than a thum, though.)
posted by Reggie Digest at 1:45 PM on September 14, 2007


it would sound like "thum". I'm from BC.

Yeah, I think this is a Canadianism... see my reference above to 'thum' from a native Nova Scotian.
posted by Malor at 2:02 PM on September 14, 2007


Malor: "I'm a speaker of California English, and it definitely rhymes with 'hem'.

I did have a friend who said 'thum' -- she was from Nova Scotia originally. Are you of Canadian background, perchance?
"

Canadian, from New Brunswick (next to NS) -- never would say "thum" and it sounds very, very to my ears.

One more for "hem"
posted by loiseau at 2:04 PM on September 14, 2007


Sorry, not sure what happened there -- "very, very weird to my ears."
posted by loiseau at 2:05 PM on September 14, 2007


Oh, and I've lived in 6 or 7 Canadian provinces and I swear I've never heard this. It sounds like Valley-girl speak to me.
posted by loiseau at 2:06 PM on September 14, 2007


Late to the party I know, but here's my recording for comparison's sake.

Canadian, born and raised in Southern Ontario, now live in Northwestern Ontario.
posted by davey_darling at 2:13 PM on September 14, 2007


@loiseau:

actually I think many (most?) canadians do tend to pronounce unstressed them with schwa (thəm) with the 'th' often barely aspirated and sometimes dropped altogether. But all canadians I can remember pronounce stressed them as thɛm, or sometimes if they are really stressing it with a dipthong theəm.
posted by lastobelus at 2:48 PM on September 14, 2007


in davey_darling's recording his first "them" is a diphthong not a pure vowel, but then when he says how he says it it is a pure vowel.
posted by lastobelus at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2007


I'm a native Pacific Northwesterner, and the OP's recording sounds very odd to my ears -- I don't think I've ever heard anyone pronounce it that way when the word is stressed. Sure, unstressed the word has a schwa which sounds sort of like "um" or maybe like "th'm", but the way it's pronounced in the recording is not in that circumstance, so it sounds unusual. If you were talking to me and I heard that I would definitely be distracted, and then probably ask where you were from.

I think it might be idiosyncratic with you, but maybe not.
posted by litlnemo at 2:53 PM on September 14, 2007


If it's a Canadian thing, it might just be a Nova Scotian (or other regional) thing - because it sure ISN'T a Canadian thing. I've never met anyone (including non-Canadians I've met) who's said THEM any different than the regular them. I say it with a simple strength of the word. I've also been around plenty of Ottawa Valley and other valley accents, none of which pronounce it like you suggest.
posted by Meagan at 3:43 PM on September 14, 2007


Hem.
I agree with loiseau that it sounds a bit Valley-Girl ish. I wouldn't be surprised to hear "Don't give it to me, give it to thum - like, totally."

If you've seen the movie Real Genius (which you should), the science nerd girl Jordan talks this way. She has a strong "thum". Michelle Meyrink is the actress and she's from BC.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:36 PM on September 14, 2007


It's more "um"-sounding when it's unstressed, like "Give to 'em, Johnny!" Like the second syllable in "boredom." But your recording is unlike anything else i've heard - you truly are a unique snowflake.
posted by so_necessary at 5:45 PM on September 14, 2007


I've never heard anyone pronounce it "thum" before your audio recording. It's mispronounced.
posted by MythMaker at 6:47 PM on September 14, 2007


Northern Minnesotan here - I pronounce "them" (both stressed and unstressed) to rhyme with "hem". "Thum" sounds very strange to me.
posted by flod logic at 8:15 PM on September 14, 2007


Other examples of the same sort of development include most Americans' pronunciation of stressed "of", and many Americans' pronunciation of "because". See this post on Language Log for some further discussion.
posted by myl at 5:25 AM on September 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


I say thum, too, but only if it's unstressed.
posted by Ruki at 7:18 AM on September 15, 2007


It sounds like Valley-girl speak to me.

Thirded. (It is definitely not a Canadianism of any sort.)
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2007


I've also been around plenty of Ottawa Valley and other valley accents, none of which pronounce it like you suggest.

Erm, no. Valley Girl.
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2007


Wow. Just listened to your recording, Indigo, and that's weird. Never heard that pronunciation before.

Nthing them as in "hem". Unstressed, it's not exactly a short "u" sound, more like no vowel sound at all: "thm". BTW, I have a standard Mid-America accent ('tho I grew up in the South!)
posted by zardoz at 10:47 PM on September 15, 2007


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