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 — 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 — /dhay/, pron. pl., poss. their or theirs, obj. them. 1. nominative plural of he, she, and it. 2. people in general: They say he s rich. 3. (used with an indefinite singular antecedent in place of the definite masculine he or the definite feminine …   Universalium

  • they — This word, as well as their, theirs, and them, should have a definite antecedent (something to which it refers) or should not be used. They have good weather in Hawaii is a vague statement because no one can tell what or who is meant by they.… …   Dictionary of problem words and expressions

  • they — pronoun /ðeɪ/ a) A group of people or objects previously mentioned. Fred and Jane? They just arrived. b) A single person, previously mentioned, but of unknown or irrelevant gender. I have a Ford Focus and a Toyota Corolla, but they are both… …   Wiktionary

  • they — See: LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • they — See: LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • They — He He (h[=e]), pron. [nom. {He}; poss. {His} (h[i^]z); obj. {Him} (h[i^]m); pl. nom. {They} ([th][=a]); poss. {Their} or {Theirs} ([th][^a]rz or [th][=a]rz); obj. {Them} ([th][e^]m).] [AS. h[=e], masc., he[ o], fem., hit, neut.; pl. h[=i], or hie …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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