"It's them as should be sorry!" grammar



The sentence is from the book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I can probably get the meaning of the sentence, but the grammar really confuses me, especially the usage of the word as. I could understand if the sentence was written as: It's they that should be sorry! More context:

"Sorry?" barked Hagrid, turning to stare at the Dursleys, who shrank back into the shadows. "It's them as should be sorry! ... ...

Can someone help to explain that sentence structure and grammar point? Thanks!


Posted 2018-06-13T08:04:03.597

Reputation: 12 255



This is an older meaning of "as" that is now only found in some dialects. It is a relative conjunction, or perhaps a relative pronoun, and it means "that". It is not standard English (so don't use it). Standard English uses "that".

It is sense 9 in the wiktionary definition as

Rowling uses this to establish the character of Hagrid as it a marker of region (Hagrid is from the West Country), and class (Dumbledore was also West Country or Gloucestershire, but had lost the accent). It marks Hagrid as very different from the way people speak in Little Whinging in Surrey.

Hagrid also uses the object form "them" as the complement of the verb "is". This is standard English, though using the subject form "they" would also be correct. (Saying "It is they" applies Latin grammar, which does always use the nominative case for this)

James K

Posted 2018-06-13T08:04:03.597

Reputation: 80 781

But It's them that should be sorry! doesn't look grammatically, does it? – dan – 2018-06-13T09:08:04.190

5@dan - Why not? (You should identify the part of the sentence that's prompting you to say that.) – J.R. – 2018-06-13T09:14:28.743

@J.R. I think it's they that should be sorry! is the correct way. "Them" is not suitable for being a subject. Correct me if I get it wrong. – dan – 2018-06-13T09:19:50.057

6@dan you are right that the grammar books say that 'is' should have the same case either side. However, few of the speakers of the language agree. "Who's there?" // "It's me!", NOT *"It is I". – AakashM – 2018-06-13T09:21:46.740

@dan - RE: "Correct me if I get it wrong." Perhaps Wendy's version is the "most grammatical" – They are the ones who should be sorry! But that doesn't quite sound like Hagrid, does it? So what's an author to do? Be faithful to grammar? Er be faithful to th' character? – J.R. – 2018-06-13T09:29:47.083

@AakashM but Them should be sorry is not correct. That's why I was thinking they should be used. They should be sorry! – dan – 2018-06-13T09:38:28.970


@dan - The sentence doesn't say, "Them should be sorry." It says, "It's them that should be sorry." And that changes everything.

– J.R. – 2018-06-13T09:53:54.417

2I've added a paragraph about "them". It's not the subject, it is the complement of "It's", and in standard English this uses the object form "me/him/them". The subject form "I/he/they" is also possible in formal writing. – James K – 2018-06-13T13:25:55.463

2A non-standard way of using them for they (and they instead of those) is also West Country. JKR (as a child) lived very near where I do, in South Gloucestershire, and these markers are now common of the older, more rural generation. – Chris H – 2018-06-13T14:00:38.420

3Just a note, "It's they that should be sorry" sounds VERY stilted to my ear. I would expect to hear "It's them that should be sorry". – Corvus B – 2018-06-13T17:36:25.217

+1. This use of "as" also survives in various colloquialisms, such as "all's" (="all as") and "Them as has, gets", that aren't terribly dialect-specific (but may evoke a sort of dialectal "feeling"). – ruakh – 2018-06-13T23:55:52.973

1@AakashM interestingly, there is an example for that too in the Harry Potter books (in the Half-Blood Prince) - when arrowing at The Burrow, Dumbledore says "It is I" - which supports the remark in the answer about class. – molnarm – 2018-06-14T14:27:31.167

About "It's they" vs "It's them", obligatory xkcd

– Fabio says Reinstate Monica – 2018-11-16T11:55:15.473


People often don't speak grammatically correctly (or standard English, he talks with a west country style).

This is one of those times. Hagrid is a big friendly not very educated person [1], this phrase confirms that.

Your analysis of the meaning is correct.

It's they that should be sorry!

I would actually say: They are the ones who should be sorry!

[1] he was thrown out of Hogwarts early.


Posted 2018-06-13T08:04:03.597

Reputation: 1 873

19More to the point, it's non-standard English. Hagrid speaks West Country English, not Standard English. It's not ungrammatical in his dialect. – snailplane – 2018-06-13T08:26:50.460

@snailboat you learn something new every day – WendyG – 2018-06-13T08:29:03.170

@snailboat but it is ungrammatical against English as taught – WendyG – 2018-06-13T08:36:34.010

14i'd call it an antiquated form, rather than strictly ungrammatical. It's a perfectly acceptable [or at least commonly-used] form in Yorkshire too. – gone fishin' again. – 2018-06-13T08:37:50.350

@Tetsujin my children's teachers in Yorkshire would never let them use that form, so not acceptable (but yes I do hear it) – WendyG – 2018-06-13T08:41:31.343

2I guess we're down to common parlance vs what you'd be taught in Grammar school. The further South you go in Yorkshire - eg leave Leeds & travel through Castleford, Pontefract down to Doncaster, Barnsley - the 'older' the language gets. – gone fishin' again. – 2018-06-13T08:44:32.323

1My mother would actually say "Tha's war'n e't bairns" to mean you're worse than the children. – gone fishin' again. – 2018-06-13T08:48:20.403

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– WendyG – 2018-06-13T08:54:42.177

@Tetsujin Given that people still use it today, I don't think you can really call it "antiquated". – David Richerby – 2018-06-14T14:37:02.830