- enPR: thā, IPA: /ðeɪ/, X-SAMPA: /DeI/
- Rhymes: -eɪ
- ( the third person plural: ) A group of people or objects previously mentioned .
- ( the third person singular, disputed ) A single person, previously mentioned, but of unknown or irrelevant gender. [since the 1400s]
- 1611, King James Version of the Bible ( Authorized Version ), Deuteronomy 17:5
- 1594, Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3:
- 1897, Henry James, What Maisie Knew, OL 7150009M:
- For more examples of usage of this term, see the citations page .
- ( indefinite pronoun, vague meaning ) People; some people; someone, excluding the speaker .
- For centuries, they has been used with a singular antecedent; however, many condemn this usage for its violation of traditional agreement rules. Writers should use this construction only if they are sure that it will be viewed as an intentional choice, rather than an error. See singular they for a more in-depth discussion .
- When the sex of the person referred to is known or clear, as there is no need to use they, it is preferable to use gender-specific pronouns instead. For example:
- which is preferable to
- Another indefinite pronoun is one, but the two words do not mean the same and are rarely interchangeable. "They" refers to people in general, whereas "one" refers to one person and what is true for that person is true for everyone. A writer may also use "you" when talking to everyone in the audience .
- Online Etymology Dictionary
- ( archaic or dialectal ) those ( used for people )
- 1802 Swedenborg, E. Arcana cœlestia: or Heavenly mysteries contained in the sacred Scriptures, or Word of the Lord, manifested and laid open [an exposition of Genesis and Exodus]. J. & E. Hodson
- 1883 Judy, or the London serio-comic journal, Volume 33 Harvard University 
Middle English, borrowed from Old Norse þeir—nominative plural masculine of the demonstrative, which acted in Old Norse as a plural pronoun—from Proto-Germanic *þai ( “those” ), from Proto-Indo-European *to- ( “that” ). Gradually replaced Old English hi and hie .
they 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 )
Definition of they by GCIDE Dictionary
- He ( hē ), pron. [nom. He; poss. His ( hĭz ); obj. Him ( hĭm ); pl. nom. They ( thā ); poss. Their or Theirs ( thârz or thārz ); obj. Them ( thĕm ).] [AS. hē, masc., heó, fem., hit, neut.; pl. hī, or hie, hig; akin to OFries. hi, D. hij, OS. he, hi, G. heute to-day, Goth. himma, dat. masc., this, hina, accus. masc., and hita, accus. neut., and prob. to L. his this. √183. Cf. It.]
1. The man or male being ( or object personified to which the masculine gender is assigned ), previously designated; a pronoun of the masculine gender, usually referring to a specified subject already indicated.
Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Gen. iii. 16.
Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve. Deut. x. 20.
2. Any one; the man or person; -- used indefinitely, and usually followed by a relative pronoun.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise. Prov. xiii. 20.
3. Man; a male; any male person; -- in this sense used substantively. Chaucer.
I stand to answer thee,
Or any he, the proudest of thy sort. Shak.
☞ When a collective noun or a class is referred to, he is of common gender. In early English, he referred to a feminine or neuter noun, or to one in the plural, as well as to noun in the masculine singular. In composition, he denotes a male animal; as, a he-goat.
- She pron. [sing. nom. She; poss. Her. ( ) or Hers ( ); obj. Her; pl. nom. They ; poss. Their or Theirs ( ); obj. Them] [OE. she, sche, scheo, scho, AS. seó, fem. of the definite article, originally a demonstrative pronoun; cf. OS. siu, D. zij, G. sie, OHG. siu, sī, si, Icel. sū, sjā, Goth. si she, sō, fem. article, Russ. siia, fem., this, Gr. , fem. article, Skr. sā, syā. The possessive her or hers, and the objective her, are from a different root. See Her.]
1. This or that female; the woman understood or referred to; the animal of the female sex, or object personified as feminine, which was spoken of.
She loved her children best in every wise. Chaucer.
Then Sarah denied, . . . for she was afraid. Gen. xviii. 15.
2. A woman; a female; -- used substantively. [R.]
Lady, you are the cruelest she alive. Shak.
☞ She is used in composition with nouns of common gender, for female, to denote an animal of the female sex; as, a she-bear; a she-cat.
- They ( thā ), pron. pl.; poss. Theirs; obj. Them. [Icel. þeir they, properly nom. pl. masc. of sā, sū, þat, a demonstrative pronoun, akin to the English definite article, AS. sē, seó, ðaet, nom. pl. ðā. See That.] The plural of he, she, or it. They is never used adjectively, but always as a pronoun proper, and sometimes refers to persons without an antecedent expressed.
Jolif and glad they went unto here [their] rest
And casten hem [them] full early for to sail. Chaucer.
They of Italy salute you. Heb. xiii. 24.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. Matt. v. 6.
☞ They is used indefinitely, as our ancestors used man, and as the French use on; as, they say ( French on dit ), that is, it is said by persons not specified.