[ they ]
See synonyms for: theytheirstheirthem on

pronoun,possessive their or theirs,objective them.
  1. nominative plural of he, she, and it1: He needed a ride, and she had her car, so they left together.

  2. people in general: They say he's rich.

  1. nominative singular pronoun:

    • (used to refer to a generic or unspecified person previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): Whoever is of voting age, whether they are interested in politics or not, should vote.A person may enlist only if they are over 18.

    • (used to refer to a specific or known person previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): The victim refused to testify at the trial because they feared for their life.My best friend from high school is famous now—too bad we didn’t stay in touch after they moved to California.

    • (used to refer to a nonbinary or gender-nonconforming person previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context): Quinn is waiting for summer vacation to adopt a puppy, so they will have more time to get their new family member properly settled.

Origin of they

First recorded in 1150–1200; Middle English thei, they, from Old Norse their “they”; replacing Old English hī(e); cognate with Old English thā, plural of thæt; see that

Grammar notes for they

Traditional grammars have limited the use of they to refer only to a plural antecedent. These grammars recommended using the singular masculine he as if it were generic, referring to a man, woman, or humanity universally: Each person should bring his own lunch. Later, when generic he was criticized as sexist, he or she began to be used in its place. But in spite of its prescriptive prohibition, the pronoun they is also used to refer to a single person in three distinct ways.
The oldest type, and the one most accepted by style guides, is when they refers to a generic, unspecified individual, or to a person whose gender and other personal details are unknown or irrelevant. Generic and singular indefinite they and related case forms their and them are found in respected works, from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (There's not a man I meet but doth salute me/As if I were their well-acquainted friend) to Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (If everybody minded their own business … the world would go round a deal faster than it does), as well as in the writing of authors like Shelley, Swift, Scott, Dickens, and Austen.
Singular they is also used as a pronoun for a known, specified person, particularly when the individual is named with a job title or other noun phrase, instead of a proper name: My teacher had their car stolen. This specific singular they looks similar to the generic singular they, but is somewhat less acceptable in conservatively edited English.
Nonbinary singular use of they, their, and them has become widely accepted in the 21st century. It has become much more common for people in general to announce which pronoun they use or to ask what pronoun another person uses. Some people, especially nonbinary, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming people, don't like being referred to with either the traditionally masculine he or the feminine she. In those cases, nonbinary singular they is used as one alternative: When Tyler was applying to college, they indicated their intended major on the application. In addition to he, she, and singular they, there are also gender-neutral neopronouns like ze used for this purpose. Singular they can also be used when a person’s pronouns aren’t known, or to avoid assigning gender, and some style guides have been recommending this usage since the mid-2010s.
And although they may be used as a singular pronoun, they still takes a plural verb, analogous to the use of "you are" to refer to one person: The student brought in a note to show why they were absent. See also he1.

Words Nearby they Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use they in a sentence

  • There was a certain difficulty in obtaining the necessary funds without announcing precisely what they-were for.

    Hyacinth | George A. Birmingham
  • A rose from the cottage of Mavis Clare?a rose from the garden of Eden!they are one and the same to me!

    The Sorrows of Satan | Marie Corelli
  • "Reckon I could hold my own agin most of they-uns if I only had a new-fangled gun," returned the boy.

  • What a noble illustration of the tender laws of this favoured country!they let the paupers go to sleep!

    Oliver Twist, Vol. I (of 3) | Charles Dickens
  • Father declared that he could not lift his feet-they seemed sealed to the ground, and he felt that he must go back.

British Dictionary definitions for they


/ (ðeɪ) /

  1. refers to people or things other than the speaker or people addressed: they fight among themselves

  2. refers to unspecified people or people in general not including the speaker or people addressed: in Australia they have Christmas in the summer

  1. not standard refers to an indefinite antecedent such as one, whoever, or anybody: if anyone objects, they can go

  2. an archaic word for those blessed are they that mourn

Origin of they

C12: thei from Old Norse their, masculine nominative plural, equivalent to Old English thā

usage For they

It was formerly considered correct to use he, him, or his after pronouns such as everyone, no-one, anyone, or someone as in everyone did his best, but it is now more common to use they, them, or their, and this use has become acceptable in all but the most formal contexts: everyone did their best

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with they


see bigger they come; let the chips fall where they may.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.