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

  • pro. Used to refer to the ones previously mentioned or implied.
  • pro. Usage Problem Used to refer to the one previously mentioned or implied, especially as a substitute for generic he: Every person has rights under the law, but they don't always know them. See Usage Note at he1.
  • pro. Used to refer to people in general.
  • pro. Used to refer to people in general as seen in a position of authority.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • pro. A group of people or objects previously mentioned.
  • pro. People; some people; someone, excluding the speaker.
  • those (used for people)

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • prep. 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 The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • 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.
  • A Middle English variant of though.


Middle English, from Old Norse their, masculine pl. demonstrative and personal pron..
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
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"). (Wiktionary)


  •  When they come back,  they pay the hotel sitter, then ask you to sit down and tell you in their nice voices that Jesus has come and Grandma is gone.


  •   If they do not start making serious moves towards cutting their deficit,  they are next for a test.

    Greece Saved For Now - Is Portugal Next?

  • No one here is really saying they do — problem is that *they* are expecting/demanding non Mexican Americans to give up *theirs* for a day.

    The Volokh Conspiracy » California High School Sends Kids Home for Wearing American Flag on Cinco de Mayo

  • And if you use the word “spiritual” around a dualist then they will assume you mean what *they* mean by it.

    Spirituality for Skeptics. | Mind on Fire

  • They love the series and some whitehats tell em they gotta do it in three movies and some bullshit tv series..which most likely wouldnt be hbo or the like they cancelled deadwood in three seasons because it was too expensive to produce. network tv adaptation would be a catastrophe and blasphamy..they deny it probably out of respect.

    Ron Howard to direct DARK TOWER movie trilogy

  • I could go on and on...they rally around nothing noteworthy yet if rush or beck say bah,bah,bah..they follow them blindly

    Welcome to the Tea Party: Infighting plagues conservative group

  • The Republicans, being the PERFECT GROUP that they are, find it reasonable, acceptable and perfectly fine, that they say NO to the President every day; that they find fault with every step he takes, every move he makes.., however, a person says what a zillion people probably think, apologizes profusely, and is sincere about it..they want to hang TODAY!

    Democrats dismiss Republican call for Reid to step down

  • I am so glad they gave him a cameo in the new one..the new one blows compared to the orginal..but I waS REALLY wondering if they were going to put him in there…poor little guy..they decided to leave him behind for the adventure…he deserves better!

    Confirmed: Bubo the Mechanical Owl is in Clash of the Titans «

  • Rollie watched Shannon walk away, thought about going with him, but instead made his way over to the swings, and Bobby gave me a high-five and said, “Nice wipeout, man,” and they all laughed about it, and Cody said, “Shannon's weird,” and Rollie agreed and they  laughed again.

    The Kid Who Knew Something

  • And (to respond to a poster below) I'm sorry if I came across as "shut up and let the professionals handle it" --- I don't have any trouble with people saying how they feel or what * they* would like to have happened to Joe (my version is unprintable!).

    Source: Kerry, Durbin Supported Lieberman Keeping Chairmanship


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • :-)

    July 22, 2010

  • I have just added the tag "why I adore this site" to this word.

    July 21, 2010

  • I came to a conclusion yesterday; that I could conscientiously use ambiguous singular 'they' but not generic singular 'they'.

    Ambiguous 'they' is when I specifically do not wish to specify a gender, although the person in question usually has one.

    "One of my friends was in Wyoming last month, and they saw a moose there."

    I know of people, using 'they' this way, almost always use it as a euphemism for 'she', but I suspect that is an aberration.

    Generic 'they' is when 'they' is used to refer to a non-specific person of singular number, which could be either male or female.

    "Every person must stand on their own two feet."

    I prefer the historical alternative of using the masculine singular pronoun to double as a generic. I have no exquisite reason beyond that I find it more euphonious, and it is a construct already in existence within the language, which I do not consider particularly nice to remove.

    I cannot, however, honestly use the masculine singular in a case of deliberate ambiguity. Thus my preferred use there of 'they'.

    They as a plural generic, of course, I have no trouble at all with.

    October 8, 2009

  • Thanks, Pro.

    *sips echinacea tea*

    February 13, 2009

  • On cupcakes: Maybe they're frosted with icing....or iced with frosting?

    On they: always plural (I always thought they wore hats)

    On tags: I'm keeping all of my tags. I'm never going to use them again, but I'm not giving them up. I'm a hoarder -- but no longer a horker.

    February 13, 2009

  • I don't actually know. What would happen to Wordie if everyone started using tags? Guess we could find out. That is kind of what they're there for.

    February 12, 2009

  • See Wikipedia (and love the wordplay in their name!).

    February 12, 2009

  • What's a flying wallenda?

    February 12, 2009

  • Not frosted?

    February 12, 2009

  • I was trying to remember that tricksy rhetorical device too, sionnach. But since I am down with the flu, I don't really give a flying wallenda about all of this at present, except to say that anyone who feels it necessary to be nasty on Wordie shall be taken to the Wordshed and flogged vigorously with pasta tags, then pummeled for several minutes with iced cupcakes.

    That's right. I said iced.

    February 12, 2009

  • What would happen if the 10,817 registered users each put 7 tags on a word?

    I'm trying to remember the name of the tricksy rhetorical device that bilby is employing here.

    Since I rarely use tags, I would like to donate my non-used 7 tags per word to chained_bear, to use how- and whenever she sees fit .

    For my old segocia, bilby, there is only one thing to be said.

    Why do you hate freedom so much?

    (While I don't find dogtags and fruittags and pastatags in the least bit offensive, I am puzzled as to why you feel it necessary to drag yarb in by his arms. tee-hee)

    February 12, 2009

  • I guess I should say something since it was my comment that started this particular contretemps about tagging. There is certainly nothing wrong with Ms. Bear (or anyone) tagging as many words as she pleases "unremarkable." That in itself is an unremarkable tag (unlike others that have become objects of controversy), and I certainly did not mean to upbraid the tagger. I understand, I think, why she considers they an unremarkable word in the bigger scheme of things, or in a set of lists with such truly remarkable words as those collected by Ms. Bear. But from a different angle, no word is actually unremarkable, the most common words least of all, since they have centuries if not millennia of history behind them and can at times be all the more surprising because we tend to take them for granted. They in particular is a word of complex meaning, as the comments on this page indicate. That was the only point I wanted to make. There was no need to "expose" the tagger, who did nothing wrong.

    February 12, 2009

  • The 'someone' who 'thought it was harsh' was yourself; I removed the tag. Are you complaining about that too now?
    I apologise for any offence I may have caused in attempting to bring to light Wordie's current tagging arrangements, which I believe to be inadequate. As most of us are, I am loathe to directly criticise John as without him none of us would have this wonderful site. As such I think certain users, including yourself chained_bear, have made the tags an issue. What would happen if the 10,817 registered users each put 7 tags on a word, as you have sometimes done? (see, for example, notothere) We would have to scroll down for months to even see the comments.
    I'm sorry but if my remaining 283 tags are a hanging offence then string me from the yarbarm. I can certainly see why my tags like shakespeare, pasta, joyce, palindrome, onomatopoeia, bi-sonic, ghosted, geography, fruit, misspelling, dog, etc. are offensive to the length and breadth of the known world.
    Or, as reesetee counsels, 'If the tags annoy, just hide them. Easy enough.'
    P.S. My tagging of a hare's breath with 'leprosy' is a joke.

    February 12, 2009

  • Views I may not agree with? Really? Like the one you left on gunpowder and then removed when someone thought it was harsh?

    I agree that tags could be a bit more transparent, but only because I've been stung by a couple that were unnecessarily mean. I reiterate my note on my profile from a few weeks ago, and I'm done caring about this.

    The silver lining is that the phrase "passive-aggressive assmarmot" still makes me smile. Also, toejam.

    February 11, 2009

  • S/h/it first appears on Wordie on 7457.

    February 11, 2009

  • I'm sure I stole it from somewhere on Wordie...

    February 11, 2009

  • S/h/it is really interesting, plethora. :)

    February 11, 2009

  • I use they as a singular, non-gender specific pronoun, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. Better they than the hideous hir. This was one of the few things my English teacher and I ever disagreed on.

    She eventually won the argument, but for some reason, she didn't respond well when I replaced they with s/h/it in my practice essay. *puzzled*

    Is JOO as in book or food, skip?

    February 11, 2009

  • Geez, si, you're really serious about this, aren't you? I got nothin' on they. How about going off on folks that pronounce jewelry JOO ler ee? Would that help?

    February 11, 2009

  • I really don't understand why people seem to want to get so exercised about tags. Good Lord, why do you all hate freedom so much?

    Meanwhile, I notice that nobody has offered any credible defence for the "anyone who uses 'they' as a singular, non-gender-specific, pronoun is morally more turpitudinous (?) than babykillers and convicted felons" shibboleth. Just the same old helena handbasket handwringing and pointless comments to the effect that it's really not so difficult to rewire one's whole sentence, paragraph, or document. If it were really that straightforward, why do so many reasonable people find it an unacceptable "solution"?

    Answer me that, freedom-haters!

    (editor's note: this comment makes use of certain rhetorical devices, such as hyperbole and sarcasm, purely in the interests of stirring up a little entertaining trouble. The author of this comment is, at heart, a cuddly, peace-loving soul. Except when he is bored and in need of a little diversion)

    February 11, 2009

  • I agree that tags should be more transparent – for instance, the tag page should show who used it and on which word. But this can be discussed on features.
    Also, toejam.

    February 11, 2009

  • I don't believe any of my tags are nasty. Some of them do reflect views that others may not agree with.

    'i guess for some people three tags is far too many' has been used 1 time by chained_bear, 1 time total.

    February 11, 2009

  • Would that also go for the nasty tags you've been leaving, bilby?

    This word's tagged as such, if anyone really cares, because I tagged all the words on one list.

    February 11, 2009

  • Only the debate, as such. Rolig wondered out aloud: 'The real question here should be, why is this extraordinary word tagged "unremarkable"?' As tags are not that transparent, in that if you click on the tag it doesn't instantly identify who made it, I think it's fair to shed light upon who is making what tags.

    February 10, 2009

  • Bilby, what's with the tag reporting?

    February 10, 2009

  • they are people you don't like.

    February 10, 2009

  • "Chocolate chips in the gorp of life." What a lovely expression, ptery.

    February 7, 2009

  • Tag: unremarkable has been used 114 times by chained_bear, 114 times total.

    February 7, 2009

  • What I think:

    - Grey is cooler than gray, because it's phonetic. Phonetically-spelled words are the chocolate chips in the gorp of life.

    - People have been using they as a singular gender-neutral pronoun for centuries now. If centuries of use doesn't make a word legitimate, what does?

    - Browsing Wordie while a cat sits in your lap and washes itself is a lovely way to spend a cold winter evening. :-)

    February 7, 2009

  • Hmm. Actually, I see both spellings in other places as well (other than books, that is). The dictionaries I've bothered to check only say that one is a variant spelling of another. Interesting.

    February 6, 2009

  • In my dictionary (the Oxford American), grey is defined as "British spelling of gray." Maybe you read a lot of books printed in the UK, ReeseTee.

    February 6, 2009

  • Why is grey vs. gray considered a transatlantic conflict, I wonder? I see both spellings in equal measure here.

    February 6, 2009

  • The real question here should be, why is this extraordinary word tagged "unremarkable"? Not only is they spelled with an e where one might expect an a, it is a personal plural pronoun that might refer to no one in particular, or everyone (e.g. "well you know what they say"), and even to singular persons of indefinite gender (e.g. "everyone should fill out the form they received in the mail"; "if someone did this on purpose, they should apologize"). And in fact, it may even refer to non-animate things (neuter gender): "She threw out his clothes because they were to painful to look at." Unremarkable, indeed!

    February 6, 2009

  • I'm sure grey grey is much greyer than gray grey. Try spending some time in London :-(

    February 6, 2009

  • Bilby, you provocateur! Why do you hate freedom? There's no point stirring up old transatlantic conflicts.

    February 6, 2009

  • Now let's try it with grey!

    February 6, 2009

  • Sung to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell.

    There is no a in they.
    There is no a in they.
    Cross out the a and put in an e,
    There is no a in they.

    February 6, 2009

  • Following up on the comments from nine months ago: Good use of their in the singular at berdache.

    August 17, 2008

  • Presumably they weren't of the slack variety.

    November 19, 2007

  • Note: "themself" disappeared in thirty years--from 1540 to 1570--because that's how long it took us all to find the bastards and kill them.
    (that was a joke.)

    November 19, 2007

  • But there are many big pictures. Yes, my skin crawls when I hear these usages because I happen to be one of those grammar mavens (read: editors) who drive sionnach so crazy. (Unless, sionnach, you're referring to another group. :-)) Using "they" and "themself" in these ways may satisfy a need or fill some language niche, but I think in many cases (certainly not all), that "need" is to be sloppy or careless. Does anyone even bother to teach English grammar anymore in the first place?

    My two cents....

    November 19, 2007

  • Those with the big picture!

    November 18, 2007

  • Interesting question c_b. I'd have to see the context to judge ambiguity or tell if my skin would crawl. "Themself" in place of "himself" or "herself" is the same to me as "they" in place of "it". "Themself instead of "themselves" is currently substandard, but "themself" is the older form: OED2 says it was the normal form to circa 1540, but disappeared circa 1570.

    As an evolutionary biologist, I'd consider "themself" and "themselves" as memes competing with one another. Current linguistic pressures favor resurgence of "themself", but as a singular form. This is essentially niche displacement that makes it easier for the forms to coexist. I don't seen compelling reason to resist "themself", and it sounds more normal to me already just having heard it in my head over the last few minutes while writing this.

    November 18, 2007

  • Mollusque--do you count "themself" as unintended ambiguity? Because that's the emphatic form of using "they" in place of a singular pronoun. (I think I saw it on Facebook today and my skin almost literally crawled.) Or is it simply an Abomination in the Eyes of the Lord? (sorry--leading question...)

    November 18, 2007

  • I use 'he'. Offence is in the ear of the hearer.

    Anyway, she murdered 'heo'.

    Macquarrie and Robinson, translating Heidegger's Being and Time, rendered 'das Man' as 'the they' because 'the one' doesn't work in English. Inauthentic Dasein just does what one does.

    November 18, 2007

  • I think "they" is in the process of filling a gap in the language. Orally, "they" is often used in place of "he" or "she", especially where "it" would be insulting. It (they) can function not only to avoid sexism, but to protect confidentiality.

    Using "they" this way in informal writing is fine with me. I did it in my comment on sought yesterday (and didn't notice until I looked it over before posting it). I let "they" stand because I didn't want "he" vs. "she" to distract from the main idea.

    In formal writing, one can usually find ways to avoid the situation. Last year I rewrote the constitution of an organization to be gender-neutral without its being too stilted. Avoiding "he", "she" and "they" on the fly in conversation (without sounding like a bureaucrat) is harder. I think it's fascinating to watch the language evolve this way. Why fight it? Are there cases where unintended ambiguity results from saying "they" instead of "he" or "she"?

    November 18, 2007

  • To me, "they" refers to Tom and Dick Smothers.

    November 17, 2007

  • I just use 'she.' I figure 'he' had it for a few thousand years, so if we use 'she' until the scales are balanced, it'll give us until 4007 to come up with an acceptable gender neutral alternative.

    November 17, 2007

  • I agree that alternating 'he' and 'she' is often confusing. The trouble is, sionnach, 'they' isn't 100% clear either.

    In the absence of a neuter singular pronoun, I think I favour rewriting, although this is sometimes difficult. There's nothing dishonourable in ducking a problem where none of the proposed solutions seem acceptable.

    November 17, 2007

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

    Yes, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. It satisfies an obvious need. The standard advice by the horrified mandarins and keepers of the flame (sorry, uselessness) tends to be:

    1. use one of he or she, but for reasons of political correctness, using the same one all the time is unacceptable, so keep switching it around at random to ensure a 50% distribution across the genders.

    yeah, like that's really going to foster clear, unambiguous communication!

    2. rewrite the sentence to circumvent the issue.

    THE HELL I WILL! This is the single most irritating "remedy" that grammar mavens have the gall to keep on suggesting. Because it's not a remedy at all, just an idiotic ducking of the issue.

    Fortunately, in another ten years this particular 'issue' will have been laid to rest.

    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

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

    November 17, 2007

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

    November 17, 2007

  • No! It's true!

    September 18, 2007

  • They Live.

    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

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

    September 18, 2007

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

    September 17, 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

  • 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