Definition of they in English:

they

Line breaks: they
Pronunciation: /ðeɪ
 
/

pronoun

[third person plural]
1Used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified: the two men could get life sentences if they are convicted
More example sentences
  • Both events might be thought of as forms of eclipse, which is why they merit mention.
  • Your joints will then be examined to see if they are swollen and to find out how easily they move.
  • The festival will be the first and only time they will have played together since they split up.
1.1People in general: the rest, as they say, is history
More example sentences
  • Was Cleopatra as beautiful as they say?
  • Going Green isn't as easy as they say it is.
  • Why do they say that you can't drink the water there?
1.2 informal People in authority regarded collectively: they cut my water off
More example sentences
  • I only hope that they catch up with him, and put him behind bars where he truly belongs.
  • They should lock him up and throw away the key.
  • They should fine him.
2 [singular] Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex: ask a friend if they could help
More example sentences
  • I've never had a friend get so mad with me that they turn off their phone and don't turn it back on for two days.
  • I mentioned this to someone at work today and they looked at me as if I were a space alien.

Origin

Middle English: from Old Norse their, nominative plural masculine of ; related to them and their, also to that and the.

Usage

The word they (with its counterparts them, their, and themselves) as a singular pronoun to refer to a person of unspecified sex has been used since at least the 16th century. In the late 20th century, as the traditional use of he to refer to a person of either sex came under scrutiny on the grounds of sexism, this use of they became more common. It is now generally accepted in contexts where it follows an indefinite pronoun such as anyone, no one, someone, or a person, as in anyone can join if they are a resident and each to their own. In other contexts, coming after singular nouns, the use of they is now common, though less widely accepted, especially in formal contexts. Sentences such as ask a friend if they could help are still criticized for being ungrammatical. Nevertheless, in view of the growing acceptance of they and its obvious practical advantages, they is used in this dictionary in many cases where he would have been used formerly. See also he (usage) and she (usage).

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