people in general: They say he's rich.
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.
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.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023
How to use they in a sentence
Kanye West finally got Kim Kardashian the Vogue cover he/she/they have been waiting for.
Thinking about fairness comes more naturally to liberals, and they/we care passionately about it.Michael Tomasky: Economic Fairness Isn’t Enough for Obama’s Game Plan | Michael Tomasky | April 12, 2012 | THE DAILY BEAST
The congressman's public flogging doesn't fit the crime, and is emblematic of our kick-'em-when-they're-down culture.
Whichever way you look at it, the are-they-or-aren't-they couple earned the portmanteau Brittana and a lot of attention.
Who are Hov, Hova, Jigga, and Jiggaman?they are all the same person: Jay-Z.
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.Harper's Round Table, October 1, 1895 | Various
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.Precious Memories | Various
British Dictionary definitions for they
refers to people or things other than the speaker or people addressed: they fight among themselves
refers to unspecified people or people in general not including the speaker or people addressed: in Australia they have Christmas in the summer
not standard refers to an indefinite antecedent such as one, whoever, or anybody: if anyone objects, they can go
an archaic word for those blessed are they that mourn
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.