they


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 she): Whoever is of voting age, whether they are interested in politics or not, should vote.
[1150-1200; ME < ON their they (r. OE hi(e)); c. OE tha, pl. of thaet THAT]
Usage. Long before the use of generic HE was condemned as sexist, the pronouns THEY, THEIR, and THEM were used in educated speech and in all but the most formal writing to refer to indefinite pronouns and to singular nouns of general personal reference, probably because such nouns are often not felt to be exclusively singular: If anyone calls, tell them I'll be back at six. Everyone began looking for their books at once.
Such use is not a recent development, nor is it a mark of ignorance. Shakespeare, Swift, Shelley, Scott, and Dickens, as well as many other English and American writers, have used THEY and its forms to refer to singular antecedents. Already widespread in the language (though still rejected as ungrammatical by some), this use of THEY, THEIR, and THEM is increasing in all but the most conservatively edited American English. This increased use is at least partly impelled by the desire to avoid the sexist implications of HE as a pronoun of general reference. See also he1.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • 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'd — [ ðeıd ] short form 1. ) the usual way of saying or writing they would. This is not often used in formal writing: They said they d be happy to help. 2. ) the usual way of saying or writing they had when had is an AUXILIARY verb. This is not often …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • they're — (they are) n. they exist, they live, they occupy a certain position, they exist in a certain state …   English contemporary dictionary

  • they'd — [ðeıd] 1.) the short form of they had ▪ If only they d been there. 2.) the short form of they would ▪ It s a pity my parents didn t come they d have enjoyed it …   Dictionary of contemporary 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

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  • they — [thā] pron. sing. he, she, it [ME thei < ON thei r, nom. masc. pl. of the demonstrative pron.; like THEIR & THEM (ME theim), also < the ON demonstrative forms, thei replaced earlier ME he (hi) because the native pronouns were phonetically… …   English World dictionary


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