they
pronoun, plural in construction Etymology: Middle English, from Old Norse their, masculine plural demonstrative & personal pronoun; akin to Old English thæt that Date: 13th century 1. a. those ones — used as third person pronoun serving as the plural of he, she, or it or referring to a group of two or more individuals not all of the same sex <
they dance well
>
b. he I,2 — often used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent <
everyone knew where they stood — E. L. Doctorow
>
<
nobody has to go to school if they don't want to — N. Y. Times
>
2. people 2 — used in a generic sense <
as lazy as they come
>
Usage: They used as an indefinite subject (sense 2) is sometimes objected to on the grounds that it does not have an antecedent. Not every pronoun requires an antecedent, however. The indefinite they is used in all varieties of contexts and is standard. Usage: They, their, them, themselves: English lacks a common-gender third person singular pronoun that can be used to refer to indefinite pronouns (as everyone, anyone, someone). Writers and speakers have supplied this lack by using the plural pronouns <
and every one to rest themselves betake — Shakespeare
>
<
I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly — Jane Austen
>
<
it is too hideous for anyone in their senses to buy — W. H. Auden
>
. The plural pronouns have also been put to use as pronouns of indefinite number to refer to singular nouns that stand for many persons <
'tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear the speech — Shakespeare
>
<
a person can't help their birth — W. M. Thackeray
>
<
no man goes to battle to be killed. — But they do get killed — G. B. Shaw
>
. The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts. This gives you the option of using the plural pronouns where you think they sound best, and of using the singular pronouns (as he, she, he or she, and their inflected forms) where you think they sound best.

New Collegiate Dictionary. 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • they — (thā) pron. 1) Used to refer to the ones previously mentioned or implied. 2) Usage Problem Used to refer to the one previously mentioned or implied, especially as a substitute for generic he: »Every person has rights under the law, but they don t …   Word Histories

  • they — W1S1 [ðeı] pron [used as the subject of a verb] [Date: 1100 1200; : Old Norse; Origin: their] 1.) used to refer to two or more people or things that have already been mentioned or are already known about ▪ Bob and Sue said they wouldn t be able… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • They — (IPAEng|ðeɪ) is a third person, personal pronoun (subject case) in Modern English.UsageThe singular they is the use of this pronoun, where they is used as a gender neutral singular rather than plural pronoun. The correctness of this usage is… …   Wikipedia

  • they — [ ðeı ] pronoun *** They is used as the subject of a verb: They killed him. In formal English they can also be used after the verb to be, especially before a relative clause: It is they who are telling lies. 1. ) used for referring to a group of… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • They — ([th][=a]), pron. pl.; poss. {Theirs}; obj. {Them}. [Icel. [thorn]eir they, properly nom. pl. masc. of s[=a], s[=u], [thorn]at, a demonstrative pronoun, akin to the English definite article, AS. s[=e], se[ o], [eth][ae]t, nom. pl. [eth][=a]. See… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • they — ► PRONOUN (third person pl. ) 1) used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified. 2) people in general. 3) informal people in authority regarded collectively. 4) used to refer to a person of unspecified sex …   English terms dictionary

  • they — they, them, their These three pronouns have all been used since the 16c to refer back to a singular pronoun, especially an indefinite pronoun such as anyone, everyone, nobody, someone, etc.: • If someone walks across it, they interrupt the beam P …   Modern English usage

  • they — c.1200, from O.N. þeir, originally masculine plural demonstrative pronoun, from P.Gmc. *thai, nom. pl. pronoun, from PIE *to (see THAT (Cf. that)). Gradually replaced O.E. hi, hie, plurals of he, heo, hit (see HE (Cf. he), SHE (Cf. she) …   Etymology dictionary

  • they — [[t]ðeɪ[/t]] ♦ (They is a third person plural pronoun. They is used as the subject of a verb.) 1) PRON PLURAL You use they to refer to a group of people, animals, or things. The two men were far more alike than they would ever admit... People… …   English dictionary

  • they */*/*/ — UK [ðeɪ] / US pronoun Summary: They is used as the subject of a verb: They killed him. In formal English they can also be used after the verb to be , especially before a relative clause: It is they who are telling lies. Usage note: In spoken… …   English dictionary

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