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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 *thai (those), from Proto-Indo-European *to- (that).

Cognate to Old English þā, and Swedish/Danish/Norwegian de (they).



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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)

  1. (Template loop detected: Template:context 1) A group of people or objects previously mentioned.
    Fred and Jane? They just arrived.
    I got Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla. But they both broken."
  2. (Template loop detected: Template:context 1) A single person, previously mentioned, but of unknown or irrelevant gender.
    Have you ever seen someone while they are on their deathbed?
  3. (Template loop detected: Template:context 1) People; some people; someone.
    They say it’s a good place to live.
    They didn’t have computers in the old days.
    They should do something about this.

Usage notes

  • 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:
    The doctor's advice to a pregnant woman is that she should take folic acid during her pregnancy.
which is preferable to
The doctor's advice to a pregnant woman is that they should take folic acid during their pregnancy.
  • 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.
    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."


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