I give somebody something.

lilyyang tw Taiwan

Q: What kinds of gifts do you give when you celebrate a friend's birthday.

A1: I give my friend a book.

A2: I give them a book.

A3: I give them books.

I'm not sure if A2 and A3 are proper.

Thank you!!!

July 05 at 23:53
  • TeacherNia us United States

    Although "them" is the pronoun the represents a third person plural object it is often used instead of using "him", "her" or "him or her". Assuming that the friend is a male or a female: A2 becomes: I give him or her a book. or I give him a book. or I give her a book. A3 becomes: I give him or her books. or I give him books. or I give her books.

    If the author is confined to the dictates of a style/editorial guide then A2 then that guide, if it is thorough will include rule that the author should follow. Some guides allow using "them" even in the case when it is clear that the author is referring to ONE friend..


    July 06 at 21:38
    • lilyyang tw Taiwan

      I'm sorry, I don't get it.

      July 07 at 02:55
  • ginthewoods us United States

    I think all three are fine.

    July 07 at 03:54
  • brucenator us United States

    It is a problem with the English language itself.

    'Them' is a plural neuter third person object pronoun referring to other people. People who are not me or you, the person I am talking to. That's why 'I' is first person (I am the first person), 'you' is second person (you are the second person) and then there is the other person or thing that we are talking about. He/she/it (subject) or him/her/it (object) is the third person or thing that we are talking about. 'He' or 'she' (or 'it') is third person (he or she is the third person). And then of course there's the plural: A group of us (we) are talking to a group of you (you) about a group of them. In some dialects, 'you' is pluralized to 'you all' or 'you guys' or 'yous' or 'yous guys' or something similar.

    It should also be noted that 'he' or 'she' may be used to refer to any 'gendered' thing: a person or any other animal, a pet, a doll or action figure, etc. Even a car or a ship may be referred to as 'she,' although this practice of assigning gender is less common than in other languages.

    We really don't have a singular neuter pronoun in English which refers to a third person regardless of sex, so we often use 'them' (instead of 'him or her') to refer to a single person without distinguishing that person as male or female. Likewise, the plural neuter subject pronoun 'they' (along with the corresponding third person plural verb) is often used in place of 'he or she' (along with the corresponding third person singular verb), although we can use the more formal 'one' as a third person singular neuter subject pronoun in some situations.

    A better way to word the question would be:

    Q: What kind of gift do you give when you celebrate a friend's birthday? — kind, gift, friend (all singular)

    A: I give them a book. (I give him or her a book.)

    The way the question is worded, it could be taken to mean any friend (singular, male or female) or multiple friends, even though it says "a friend" (singular):

    Q: What kinds of gifts do you give when you celebrate a friend's birthday? — kinds, gifts (plural); friend (singular)

    or Q: What kinds of gifts do you give when you celebrate your friends' birthdays? kinds, gifts, friends, birthdays (all plural)

    A: I give them books. (them = my friends)

    A: I give my friends books.

    Most people would probably accept any of the above answers to this particular question, regardless of which of the above ways the question is worded, because more than one friend is being talked about.

    Simple answer: "I give my friend a book" doesn't sound as natural to me. "I give them a book" (in response to the first question) or "I give them books" or "I give my friends books" (in response to the second or third question) all sound natural to me.

    Because the original question asks 'what kinds of gifts' (plural), I would probably focus more on giving an answer that includes more than one type of gift than on what kind of noun or pronoun I am using to refer to my friend or friends:

    Lilyyang: What kinds of gifts do you give when you celebrate a friend's birthday?

    Bruce: What kinds of gifts?

    Lilyyang: Yeah.

    Bruce: I usually give my friends tools or some kind of kitchen gadget I know they don't have.

    'Friends' is plural, but 'they' is actually used as if it were singular — as if to say: I usually give my friends tools. Or I give him or her some kind of kitchen gadget that I know that he or she doesn't have. This is because a singular object (a kitchen gadget) generally needs to correspond to a singular person (he or she, him or her), namely when you are talking about a gift for an individual person on his or her birthday, (although a single gift can be given to a couple, a husband and wife or even a group of people, in which case 'them' or 'they' would be plural anyway, but that would be a different situation than an individual on his or her birthday.)

    July 08 at 04:57
    • lilyyang tw Taiwan

      Thank you very much, brucenator. Kind of getting a little sense of it.

      July 08 at 07:42
      • ginthewoods us United States

        In my everyday use, if I know the person being referred to I will most often use the gendered pronoun ("him" or "her.") (By the way, we will do this referring to pets such as dogs or cats as well as people.) If it is more than one person , or I don't know the gender (If speaking for instance in general terms, such as if I am referring to "people" in general), I'd use "them. For instance, since I do not know if your friend is male or female, I would refer to them as "them."

        July 08 at 10:41
        • brucenator us United States

          Exactly. Or if you want to be vague: A friend of mine was at the bar and they were really drunk. (Instead of saying "and he was really drunk" or "and she was really drunk.") I use the vague third person all the time. It's just easier. (And sometimes it's nobody's business to know exactly who it is you are talking about.) That way I can talk about people without needing to identifying them or their gender. "There's this person from Taiwan on one of my language learning sites who goes by the name lillyyang. I help them with their English language questions all of the time."

          July 08 at 12:02
          • lilyyang tw Taiwan

            Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping us here or there.

            You really are a great help. I think you have the gift of being able to do this kind of work.

            July 09 at 00:28
      • brucenator us United States

        It will get easier, lillyyang, as you become more accustomed to the language. I edited and expanded my original explanation, by the way.

        July 08 at 13:02
    • lilyyang tw Taiwan

      May I know any examples of kitchen gadget?

      Thank you!!!

      Thursday at 00:41
      • brucenator us United States

        Really, any manual device you can use in your kitchen, like a garlic press, a juicer or a food thermometer is a gadget. As opposed to a (more expensive) kitchen appliance, like a refrigerator or a dishwasher. Some people might consider a crock pot or a George Foreman grill to be a "kitchen gadget." I wouldn't consider these to be gadgets or appliances, but I'm not exactly sure what you should call them (or categorize them as), other than what they are: a grill, a crock pot. Supposedly anything that runs on power is an appliance and anything that is manual is a gadget. So a relatively inexpensive toaster or toaster-oven or electric grill or crock pot would technically be an appliance (I think). And a mortar and pestle is manual, but it is used to prepare ingredients, like spices or mint leaves, and is considered to be an implement. But I'm not very good at placing things in their proper category. So when I said "kitchen gadget" I basically meant anything that isn't an expensive appliance. I would give a friend a toaster-oven or a grill or a mortar and pestle as a gift, if I knew they needed and wanted one.

        Thursday at 16:44
        • lilyyang tw Taiwan

          Thank you, brucenator. Your explanation clarified my confusion.

          Friday at 07:46