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Webster 1913 Edition


They

They

(thā)
,
p
ron.
pl.
;
p
oss.
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.

Webster 1828 Edition


They

THEY

, pron. plu.; objective case, them.]
1.
The men, the women, the animals, the things. It is never used adjectively, but always as a pronoun referring to persons, or as a substitute referring to things.
They and their fathers have transgressed against me. Ezek.2.
They of Italy salute you. Heb.13.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Matt.5.
2.
It is used indefinitely, as our ancestors used man, and as the French use on. They say, [on dit,] that is, it is said by persons, indefinitely.

Definition 2022


they

they

See also: þey

English

Alternative forms

  • (rare, dialect or eye dialect:) dey (th-stopping dialects), thay, theye (archaic), thaay (Gloucestershire, Berkshire, possibly archaic)

Pronoun

they (third-person, nominative case, usually plural, sometimes singular, objective case them, possessive their, possessive noun theirs, reflexive themselves, or, singular, themself)

  1. (the third-person plural) A group of people, animals, plants, or objects previously mentioned. [since the 1200s]
    Fred and Jane? They just arrived.   Dogs may bark if they want to be fed.   Plants wilt if they are not watered.
    I have a car and a truck, but they are both broken.
    • 2010, Iguana Invasion!: Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida (ISBN 1561644684), page 9:
      There is no reason to be scared of iguanas. They do not attack humans.
  2. (the third-person singular, sometimes proscribed) A single person, previously mentioned, especially if of unknown or non-binary gender, but not if previously named and identified as male or female. [since the 1300s]
    • 1611, Bible (KJV), Deuteronomy 17:5:
      Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
    • 1997, Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, (quoted edition: London: Bloomsbury, 2000, ISBN 0 7475 5955 9, page 187):
      Someone knocked into Harry as they hurried past him. It was Hermione.
    • 2008, Michelle Obama, quoted in Lisa Rogak, Michelle Obama in Her Own Words, New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2009. ISBN 978 1 58648 762 1, page 18:
      One thing a nominee earns is the right to pick the vice president that they think will best reflect their vision of the country, and I am just glad I will have nothing to do with it.
    • 2014, Ivan E. Coyote, Rae Spoon, Gender Failure (ISBN 1551525372)
      The boycott, led by Elisha Lim, of a Toronto gay and lesbian newspaper after it refused to use their preferred pronoun ["they"], citing grammar considerations, inspired me.
    • 2015 April, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (mayor of Baltimore), commenting on the death of Freddie Gray:
      I'm angry that we're here again, that we have had to tell another mother that their child is dead.
    • For more examples of usage of this term, see Citations:they.
  3. (indefinite pronoun, vague meaning) People; some people; people in general; someone, excluding the speaker.
    They say it’s a good place to live.
    They didn’t have computers in the old days.
    They should do something about this.
    They have a lot of snow in winter.
Usage notes
  • (singular pronoun): Usage of they as a singular pronoun began in the 1300s and has been common ever since, despite attempts by some grammarians, beginning in 1795,[4] to condemn it as a violation of traditional (Latinate) agreement rules. Some other grammarians have countered that criticism since at least 1896.[5]Fowler's Modern English Usage (third edition) notes that it "is being left unaltered by copy editors" and is "not widely felt to lie in a prohibited zone." Some authors compare use of singular they to widespread use of singular you instead of thou.[6][7] See Wikipedia's article on singular they for more; see also the usage notes about themself. (Compare he.)
  • (singular pronoun): Infrequently, they is used of an individual person of known, binary gender. See citations.
  • (singular pronoun): Infrequently, they is used of an individual animal which would more commonly be referred to as it. See citations.
  • (indefinite pronoun): One is also an indefinite pronoun, but the two words do not mean the same thing and are rarely interchangeable. "They" refers to people in general, whereas "one" refers to one person (often such that what is true for that person is true for everyone). "You" may also be used to refer to people in general.
    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."
Translations
See also
  • other attested and proposed gender-neutral pronouns

Determiner

they

  1. (archaic, Southern England dialect or eye-dialect) The, those.
    • 1878, Louis John Jennings, Field Paths and Green Lanes, quoting an old East Sussex man:
      "They rooks as you see [...] only coom a few year agoo."
    • 1883 Judy, or the London serio-comic journal, volume 33 (Harvard University) :
      Darn'd if they Cockney Chaps can zee there worn't nort but lie in him.
    • 1895, Under the Chilterns: A Story of English Village Life:
      page 21: "But you spile [spoil] they gals - they won't be for no good, they won't."
      page 30: "'Twas all about they rewks [rooks]," he sobbed.
      page 54: "mucking the place up with they weeds"
    • 1901, Gwendoline Keats (of Devon), Tales of Dunstáble Weir, page 55:
      "Bodies and souls," she cried, "if I didn't reckon to have hidden they boots safe from un in the stick-rick." "Off wi' they tight-wasted shoes o' yours, Martha."
Usage notes

The Oxford English Dictionary, Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary and the University of Michigan's Middle English Dictionary[8] define this use of they and its Middle English predecessor thei as a demonstrative determiner or adjective meaning "those" or "the". Although this use would be a direct continuation of the use of the word's Old Norse etymon þeir as a demonstrative pronoun meaning "those", the OED and EDD say it is limited to southern, especially southwestern, England, outside the region of Norse contact.

References

  1. 1 2 3 they” in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.
  2. they” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary (2001).
  3. Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language
  4. Anne Bodine, Androcentrism in Prescriptive Grammar: Singular `they', Sex-indefinite `he', and `he or she', in Language in Society, v. 4 (1975), pages 129-146
  5. William Malone Baskervill and James Witt Sewell's An English Grammar (1896) says singular they is "frequently found when the antecedent includes or implies both genders. The masculine does not really represent a feminine antecedent"; it furthermore recommends changing it to he or she "unless both genders are implied". (Italics in original.)
  6. Michael Reed, Tech Book 1 (ISBN 0956081312), Note abut pronoun usage, page 9: "Singular they can introduce some ambiguity because the antecedent of the pronoun “they” could theoretically be a male or female [... but] English has survived the loss of pronouns such as thou (singular you) despite the consequent potential for ambiguity."
  7. John McWhorter, Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of a Pure Standard (2009, ISBN 0786731478): "In this light, our modern grammarians' discomfort with singular they is nothing but this comical intermediate stage in an inevitable change, as misguided and futile as the old grumbles about singular you."
  8. thei”, in MED Online, University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 2016-01-28

Etymology 2

From earlier the'e, from there.

Alternative forms

Pronoun

they

  1. Eye dialect spelling of there (especially as an expletive subject of be), representing a non-rhotic pronunciation.
    • 1908, William Dean Howells, Ragged Lady: A Novel - Page 294:
      But I presume he was expectin' to get well right away then. And I don't believe,” he added, energetically, “but what he will yet. As I undastand, the'e ain't anything ogganic about him.
    • 1974, Arthur Hippler, Hunter's Point: a black ghetto in America, page 88:
      MARY ELLEN is a different case from the others. She has five children and, she claims: "I don't know who they father is. I ain't never kept track. They is always another one. You know, I can catch me a guy[.]"
    • 2000, Janice Giles, Hill Man, page 58:
      They ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
    • 2008, Christian Carvajal, Lightfall, page 82:
      But they ain’t nothin’ in there you didn’t already have.
    • 2010, Alessandro Portelli, They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History, page 207:
      Well, they’s a lot of ‘em didn’t survive, if you believe me.

Etymology 3

Eye-dialect.

Pronoun

they

  1. (now chiefly African American Vernacular) Eye dialect spelling of their, representing a non-rhotic pronunciation.
    • 1974, Arthur Hippler, Hunter's Point: a black ghetto in America, page 88:
      MARY ELLEN is a different case from the others. She has five children and, she claims: "I don't know who they father is. I ain't never kept track. They is always another one. You know, I can catch me a guy[.]"

Statistics

Most common English words before 1923: all · him · she · #33: they · my · were · are

Anagrams


Middle English

Pronoun

they

  1. Alternative form of thei