Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • pronoun Used to refer to the ones previously mentioned or implied.
  • pronoun Usage Problem Used to refer to the one previously mentioned or implied, especially as a substitute for generic he.
  • pronoun Used to refer to people in general.
  • pronoun Used to refer to people in general as seen in a position of authority.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • A Middle English variant of though.
  • The plural pronoun of the third person. It stands for a plural noun or pronoun preceding, or in place of one not expressed when pointed out by the situation. It is without gender-forms.
  • Poss. their. Of or belonging to them: now always preceding the noun, with the value of an attributive adjective.
  • Poss. theirs. That which belongs to them: always used without the noun, and having the value of a nominative or an objective.
  • Obj. (acc.), them.
  • Obj. (dat.), them.
  • Used for those.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • preposition 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.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • pronoun the third person plural A group of people or objects previously mentioned.
  • pronoun People; some people; someone, excluding the speaker.
  • determiner archaic or dialectal those (used for people)

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English, from Old Norse their, masculine pl. demonstrative and personal pron.; see to- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English they, thei, from Old Norse þeir—nominative plural masculine of the demonstrative, which acted in Old Norse as a plural pronoun—from Proto-Germanic *þai (“those”), from Proto-Indo-European *to- (“that”). Gradually replaced Old English and hīe ("they").

Examples

Comments

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  • In place of "their," e.g. "He went to they field and threw they ball." This is a reference to Tobias Wolff, by the way.

    April 13, 2007

  • "You know what they say..."

    As a kid I always imagined "them" to be a married couple sitting in the den passing time by making up stupid phrases to tell their friends the next day. I vowed to find these people when I grew up, and stop them from confusing the language so much.

    September 17, 2007

  • Ha! Nice. I always thought "they" were a vast, faceless corporation, running everything Illuminati-style.

    September 17, 2007

  • For me, "they" were little old ladies sitting around a quilt.

    September 18, 2007

  • I always thought They were in some grand, wood-paneled conference room. And it always seemed necessary to capitalize the word. ;-)

    September 18, 2007

  • They Live.

    September 18, 2007

  • No! It's true!

    September 18, 2007

  • Notice how "they" is increasingly being used as a neuter singular pronoun, to avoid saying he or she?

    November 17, 2007

  • Yes mollusque, and I'm not sure I like it. Do you think there's a gap in the language here?

    November 17, 2007

  • Yes. It annoys me to no end. Admittedly, there are times when we need a good neuter singular pronoun, but that's not it. I guess I'm rather politically incorrect these days, but I think using he is a good old standard that people understood. It's not really worth getting upset about, in my opinion, but then again I'm a man. ;-)

    I think part of the problem is also the increasing frequency of addressing collective units in the plural. When Microsoft does something, for example, it does it as one entity, not as "them" or "they."

    November 17, 2007