You’re telling a friend about your two new dogs. You use their names each time you talk about them, and by the time you’ve said “Fido and Lucy” several times, you’re wondering if there’s a better way to refer to your dogs together. For example, is it correct to say “Both of them” when referring to Fido and Lucy?
It is correct to say “both of them” to reference two people, places, or things that you have previously named. The first time you name the two items, you should say “both Fido and Lucy” or “both the poodle and the retriever.” When you are using the pronoun “them” in reference to named items, you can say “both of them” and be grammatically correct.
The phrase “both of them” is a great tool in English. Here, we will give examples of the best times to use this phrase and when you should avoid using it. We will also discuss the origin of the phrase and explain how to avoid redundancy by making “both of them” a part of your daily speech pattern.
What Does “Both of Them” Mean?
“Both of them” is a way of referring to two items that you have already named while avoiding repetitiveness in your speech or writing. If we break the phrase down, the definition of “both” is “(referring to) two people or things together” (source), and “them” is “a third person pronoun used as the object of a verb or preposition (source).
We cannot be sure exactly where the term “both” originated. Many theories center on either a Proto-Germanic or an Old English base. However, we can find terms with similar meanings to the word “both” in many archaic languages, as well as in modern Dutch and German (source).
If you have named two nouns already, you can use either “both” or “both of them” when referring to those nouns. “Both” functions either as a shortened form of “both of them” or to introduce the two nouns for the first time.
In my first sentence, I would say, “Both Mike and Joe will attend the service.” Then anytime after that, I can refer to “both of them,” and the listener will know that I mean “Mike and Joe.”
How Do You Use “Both of Them”?
You can use “both of them” in any part of the sentence where a noun is appropriate. The phrase can work as a subject, a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of the preposition.
- Subject: Both of them are in my class.
- Direct object: I called both of them.
- Indirect object: I gave both of them a gift.
- Object of the preposition: I talked to both of them.
In the examples above, you can see that the phrase “both of them” operates in various places within the typical sentence pattern. Generally, if you were to diagram these sentences, you would label the word “both” in the noun space as either a subject, a direct or indirect object, or as the object of the preposition.
You would label and diagram the end of the phrase, “of them,” as an additional prepositional phrase. These prepositional phrases within prepositional phrases, such as “on top of the cabinet,” are actually quite common.
When Can You Use “Both of Them”?
You can use “Both of them” after you have already named two nouns and need to refer to them again within a short space.
For instance, you could say, “My mom and my aunt are at the mall today. Both of them enjoy shopping.” In this example, the phrase “both of them” refers to my mom and my aunt, without renaming the two individuals.
It is essential to only use “both of them” in speech or writing when you have already named two precisely defined nouns. These nouns can be anything, as long as they are both nouns.
You can refer to two countries, two groups of people, two animals, or two corporations. But you will only use “both of them” to refer to the two entities you previously named.
In What Context Can You Use “Both of Them”?
If you are speaking or writing about two specific people, places, or things, you can use “both of them” after the first time you named the two nouns. If you are talking about two animals, two people, or two cities, you can use “both of them” to avoid redundancy.
If you are writing or speaking and want to refer to two entities, you cannot say “both of them” until after you have actually named the nouns. The listener or reader will be confused if you start talking about “both of them” before you have named the two nouns that “both” refers to.
In the first sentence, name “he and she” or “both McDonald’s and Wendy’s.” After you have named the two nouns, you can use “both of them” multiple times if your meaning remains clear.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Both of Them”?
“Both of them” is a grammatically correct phrase if we use it in the proper place in the sentence. Because “both” is a pronoun, it can take the place of any part of the sentence where we would use a noun. We add “of them” to complete the thought by referring to the previously named nouns.
There are eight basic parts of speech in the English language. They are verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections (source). Out of these eight parts of speech, nouns are the only ones we can replace with pronouns.
Most English speakers are familiar with the more common pronouns, such as “he,” “she,” or “it.” The word “both” is a pronoun because it takes the place of the nouns we’ve named earlier in a conversation.
While some pronouns can be undefined, replacing the names of a varying number of nouns, “both” is a well-defined pronoun. By definition, it can only replace the names of two nouns. If you are unsure how many nouns you are replacing, you must use a more indefinite term, such as “some,” “many,” or “all.”
Using “Both of Them” in a Full Sentence
You can say “Both of them” in diverse ways to make a full sentence. For example, if someone asks, “Which one of your parents is coming to the party?” you could answer, “Both of them are coming.” In this example, you are referring to both of your parents without having to name your mom or your dad.
You can also use “both of them” to refer to inanimate objects. For example, if someone asks you, “which item will you purchase?” you can say, “I want to buy both of them.” This phrase explains that you want to purchase the two items he referred to, but you don’t have to state the specific items.
When Not to Use “Both of Them”
While “both of them” is a great tool to reduce redundancy and clarify your speech, it is not the correct phrase to use in some situations. For instance, we do not use “both of them” in the same sentence in which we listed both nouns.
We can say, “My dad and my brother love to fish,” or we can say, “Both of them love to fish.” However, we would not say, “My dad and my brother, both of them love to fish.”
Also, we usually do not use “both of them” when speaking of ideas. For instance, if you are talking about love and joy, you would not say “both of them.” Instead, you would say “both of these ideas” or “both love and joy.”
In the same way, when combining adjectives, it is better to use “both intelligent and innovative” instead of saying “both of them.”
Once in a while, you might need to refer to yourself in conjunction with another person. In such cases, you would use “both you and me” or “both you and I” instead of “both of them.” In our article “You and I or You and Me: Understanding the Correct Use of these Pronouns,” you can find more information about this tricky topic.
“Both of Them” Is Not Always the Best Choice
The phrase “both of them” is not the best choice in certain situations. If someone asks you to choose between two items, you should not say “both of them” unless you make a joke. We need to answer specific questions with specific answers.
Sometimes, a person will say, “Do you want apple pie or cherry pie?” If you say, “I want both of them,” they might laugh, but they still will not know which flavor of pie you prefer. So, instead, you must state which type of pie you want to answer the question clearly.
Similarly, if someone asks you, “Do you want to travel on Tuesday or on Friday?” the proper answer would be to restate one of those days. You should say “I want to travel on Tuesday” or “I want to travel on Friday.” You should not say, “I want to travel on both of them.”
What Can You Use Instead of “Both of Them”?
The first time you state two disparate nouns, you should not use “both of them.” Instead, you should name the two items by joining them with the conjunction “and.” For instance, you can say, “Both the dog and the cat” did something.
After this initial statement, you will be able to use “both of them” to refer to the two animals. But for the first statement, you must name both nouns to introduce the discussion.
You can state the nouns in the original sentence either with or without the word “both.” For example, you can say “both the dog and the cat,” or you can say “the dog and the cat” did something.
Whether you used “both” or did not use it in the original sentence, you can still use “both of them” when you refer to the dog and the cat together in later sentences.
Because “both” is a pronoun, it can serve all by itself to take the place of the nouns it names. In the example above, you could say “Both are family pets” instead of “Both of them are family pets.” The sentence has the same meaning and is grammatically correct with or without the prepositional phrase “of them.”
In the same way, you can sometimes use two pronouns together without changing the meaning of your statement. For example, you can say, “They both love to play” or “Both of them love to play.” The meaning is clear in either sentence: the specific dog and cat pair, who we mentioned in the previous sentences, love to play.
Reducing Redundancy and Wordiness in English
Pronouns are a wonderful tool in the English language. When we are having a conversation about a particular person, place, or thing, we use pronouns to take the place of the stated noun.
I can talk about two people, two cities, or two pets all day without having to name them over and over again. I simply use the phrase “both of them” to refer to the two nouns after the first time I have named them.
Redundancy in English speech and writing is a common problem. Many people use phrases that state a fact in a repetitive way, such as “cease and desist,” “absolutely certain,” or “ATM machine.” Each of these phrases says the same thing twice. Merriam-Webster defines “redundant” as “exceeding what is necessary or normal, superfluous” (source).
When writing or speaking, you may realize that there is more than one way to make a statement. If you can’t decide between your two options, choose the more concise one and use fewer overall words.
This is especially important if more than one phrase in your sentence means the same thing (source). Anytime you can be clear while using fewer words, your reader or listener will thank you! This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
For more on redundancy in English, check out “Is It Correct to Say ‘Repeat After Me’?”
“Both of them” is a valuable tool that native speakers use with skill. Once you know how and when to use it, you will find that the phrase “both of them” adds clarity to your speech or writing while reducing redundancy.
Whether you use the phrase “both of them” or the word “both” by itself, you will sound like a professional when applying these basic concepts.