They

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This article is about the English personal pronoun. For other uses, see They (disambiguation).

They /ð/ is the third-person plural personal pronoun (subjective case) in Modern English.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Singular Plural
Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
First I me my mine myself we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourself you your yours yourselves
Third Masculine he him his himself they them their theirs themselves
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Nonspecific, colloquial they them their theirs themself
(themselves)

Usage[edit]

Main article: Singular they

The "singular" they is the use of this pronoun as a gender-neutral singular rather than as a plural pronoun. The correctness of this usage is disputed.[1][2] The Oxford Dictionaries have an article on the usage, saying that it dates back to the 16th century.[3]

The singular pronoun they is even found in formal or official texts. For example, a 2008 amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code contains the following text:

if a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe that, because of their physical condition, a person may be incapable of providing a breath sample... (subparagraph 254(3)(a)(ii))

Which contrasts, for example, with subsecti evidence to the contrary, proof of an intent or criminal liability.

In an article published in The New York Times Magazine by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman, they read:

Anne Fisher (1719-78) [an 18th-century British schoolmistress and the first woman to write an English grammar book] was not only a woman of letters but also a prosperous entrepreneur. She ran a school for young ladies and operated a printing business and a newspaper in Newcastle with her husband, Thomas Slack. In short, she was the last person you would expect to suggest that he should apply to both sexes. But apparently she couldn’t get her mind around the idea of using they as a singular.

...

Meanwhile, many great writers — Byron, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens, Trollope and more — continued to use they and company as singulars, never mind the grammarians. In fact, so many people now use they in the old singular way that dictionaries and usage guides are taking a critical look at the prohibition against it. R. W. Burchfield, editor of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, has written that it’s only a matter of time before this practice becomes standard English: “The process now seems irreversible.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) already finds the singular they acceptable “even in literary and formal contexts,” but the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) isn’t there yet. [1]

Etymology[edit]

In Old English, hīe was used as the third-person, personal pronoun (in the nominative and accusative case). It was gradually replaced by an Old Norse borrowing, þeir (nominative plural masculine of the demonstrative, which acted in Old Norse as a plural pronoun), until it was entirely replaced in around the 1400s in Middle English. Þeir, in turn, became they as it is known in Modern English today. Þeir originates from Proto-Germanic *þai-z ("those"), from Proto-Indo-European *toi ("those").[4]

Personal pronouns in Middle English
Singular Plural
Nominative Oblique Genitive Nominative Oblique Genitive
First ik / ich / I me my(n) we us oure
Second þou / thou þee / thee þy(n) / thy(n) ȝe / ye ȝow / you ȝower / your
Third Impersonal hit hit / him his he
þei / they
hem
þem / them
her
þeir / their
Masculine he him his
Feminine ȝho / scho / sche hire hire

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b O'Conner, Patricia; Kellerman, Stewart (21 July 2009). "On Language - "All-Purpose Pronoun"". New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on 2012-07-07. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  2. ^ "they (definition and usage)". Dictionary.com LLC. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "‘He or she’ versus ‘they’". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2012-07-07. 
  4. ^ "They". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 6 October 2010.