An example of they is someone saying that a group of people are standing at a bus stop, "They are standing at the bus stop."
- the persons, animals, or things previously mentioned: personal pronoun in the third person plural: they is the nominative form, them the objective, theirs the possessive, and themselves the reflexive and intensive; their is the possessive pronominal adjective
- people: they say it's so
- the person or group just mentioned: often used with a singular antecedent (as everybody, somebody, everyone) to avoid the masculine implications of the traditional he without distinction as to gender, although this usage is objected to by some: everyone thinks they are right about this issue
Origin of theyMiddle English thei ; from Old Norse thei-r, nominative masculine plural of the demonstrative pronoun ; like their and amp; them ( Middle English theim), also ; from the Old Norse demonstrative forms, thei replaced earlier Middle English he (hi) because the native pronouns were phonetically confused with the forms of the person; personal (grammar) pronoun ( Middle English he, hire, hem, him, and the like ): compare their, them, she
- Used to refer to the ones previously mentioned or implied.
- 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 always know them.
- a. Used to refer to people in general.b. Used to refer to people in general as seen in a position of authority.
Origin of theyMiddle English, from Old Norse their, masculine pl. demonstrative and personal pron.; see to- in Indo-European roots. Usage Note: The use of the third-person plural pronoun they with an antecedent that is a singular noun or pronoun is attested as early as 1300, and many admired writers have used they, them, themselves, and their to exemplify instances of singular nouns and pronouns such as one, a person, an individual, and each. W.M. Thackeray, for example, wrote in Vanity Fair in 1848, “A person can't help their birth,” and more recent writers such as George Bernard Shaw and Anne Morrow Lindbergh have also used this construction, in sentences such as “To do a person in means to kill them,” and “When you love someone you do not love them all the time.” The practice is widespread and can be found in newspapers, magazines, and other edited publications. The usage is so common in speech that it generally passes unnoticed. • However, despite the convenience of third-person plural forms as substitutes for generic he and for coordinate forms like his/her, many people avoid using they with a singular antecedent out of respect for the traditional grammatical rule concerning pronoun agreement. Most of the Usage Panel still upholds this practice but in decreasing numbers. In our 1996 survey, 80 percent rejected the use of they in the sentence A person at that level should not have to keep track of the hours they put in. By 2008, however, only 62 percent of the Panel still held this view, with 38 percent accepting this sentence outright. Moreover, in 2008, a majority of the Panel accepted the use of they with antecedents such as anyone and everyone, pronouns that are grammatically singular but carry a plural meaning. Some 56 percent accepted the sentence If anyone calls, tell them I can't come to the phone, and 59 percent accepted Everyone returned to their seats. The trend then is clear. Writers who feel they are overturning convention by using they with a singular antecedent should bear in mind that much of their audience may not care, and with time this population is almost certain to grow. See Usage Notes at anyone, he1, she.Word History: Incredible as it may seem, the English pronoun they is not a native English pronoun. They comes from Old Norse and is a classic example of the profound impact of that language on English: because pronouns are among the most basic elements of a language, it is rare for them to be replaced by borrowings from foreign sources. The Old Norse pronouns their, theira, theim worked their way south from the Danelaw, the region governed by the Old Norse–speaking invaders of England, and first appeared in English about 1200, gradually replacing the Old English words h&imacron;e, h&imacron;ora, him. The nominative or subject case (modern English they) seems to have spread first. William Caxton, who brought the printing press to England, uses they, hir, hem in his earlier printed works (after 1475) and thei, their, theim in his later ones. This is clear evidence of the spread of these Norse forms southward, since Caxton did not speak northern English natively (he was born in Westminster). The native English plural him or hem may well survive, at least colloquially, in modern English ’em, as in “Give ’em back!”
(personal pronoun; the third person, nominative case, usually plural, but sometimes used in the singular when the gender is unknown or irrelevant, objective case them, possessive their, possessive noun theirs, reflexive plural themselves, reflexive singular themself)
- (the third-person plural) A group of people or objects previously mentioned.
- Fred and Jane? They just arrived.
- I have a car and a truck, but they are both broken."
- (the third-person singular, disputed) A single person, previously mentioned, but of unknown or irrelevant gender. [since the 1400s]
- (indefinite pronoun, vague meaning) People; some people; someone, excluding the speaker.
- They say it's a good place to live.
- They didn't have computers in the old days.
- They should do something about this.
- They have a lot of snow in winter.
- For centuries, they has been used with a singular antecedent. Despite this, some condemn this usage as a violation of traditional agreement rules. See singular they for a more in-depth discussion.
- Another indefinite pronoun is one, but the two words do not mean the same thing and are rarely interchangeable. "They" refers to people in general, whereas "one" refers to one person (often such that what is true for that person is true for everyone). A writer may also use "you" when talking to everyone in the audience.
- They say, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
- One may say, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
- You may say, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
- (archaic or dialectal) those (used for people)
The term was borrowed by Middle English (as they, thei) in the 1200s from Old Norse Ã¾eir, the nominative plural masculine of the demonstrative sÃ¡, which acted in Old Norse as a plural pronoun. The Norse term derives from Proto-Germanic *Ã¾ai (“those"), from Proto-Indo-European *to- (“that"). It gradually replaced Old English hÄ« and hÄ«e (“they").
Cognate to Old English Ã¾Ä (“those") (whence Modern English tho), Scots thae, thai, thay (“they; those"), Icelandic Ã¾eir (“they"), Faroese teir (“they"), Swedish de (“they"), Danish de (“they"), Norwegian de (“they"), Norwegian Nynorsk dei (“they"), and German die (“the; those", plural article and pronoun). See also tho.
The term has been used as a singular pronoun since at least the 1400s.