|Look up they, them, their, theirs, or themselves in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Person (gender)||Subject||Object||Dependent possessive (determiner)||Independent possessive||Reflexive|
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 writers — Byron, Austen, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens, Trollope and more — continued to use they and company as singulars, never mind the grammarians. Now, many people use they in the old singular way that dictionaries and usage guides are taking a critical look at the prohibition against it.
The pronoun they can also be used to refer to unspecified people in some often vaguely defined group, as in In Japan they drive on the left. or They're putting in a McDonald's across the street from the Target. It often refers to the authorities, or to some perceived powerful group, sometimes sinister: They don't want the public to know the whole truth.
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 15th century 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").
Word of the yearEdit
In December 2019, Merriam-Webster chose "they" as word of the year for 2019. The word was chosen because "English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years."
|Person / gender||Subject||Object||Possessive determiner||Possessive pronoun||Reflexive|
|First||ic / ich / I
|me / mi
|min / minen [pl.]
|min / mire / minre
|min one / mi selven|
|Second||þou / þu / tu / þeou
|þi / ti
|þin / þyn
|þeself / þi selven |
|him[a] / hine[b]
|his / hisse / hes
|his / hisse
|Feminine||sche[o] / s[c]ho / ȝho
|heo / his / hie / hies / hire
|hio / heo / hire / heore
|hit / him
|hit sulue |
|us / ous
|ure[n] / our[e] / ures / urne
|us self / ous silve |
|Second||ȝe / ye
|eow / [ȝ]ou / ȝow / gu / you
|eower / [ȝ]ower / gur / [e]our
|Ȝou self / ou selve |
|Third||From Old English||heo / he||his / heo[m]||heore / her||-||-|
|From Old Norse||þa / þei / þeo / þo||þem / þo||þeir||-||þam-selue|
Many other variations are noted in Middle English sources due to difference in spellings and pronunciations. See Francis Henry Stratmann (1891). A Middle-English dictionary. [London]: Oxford University Press. and A Concise Dictionary of Middle English from A.D. 1150 TO 1580, A. L. Mayhew, Walter W. Skeat, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1888.
- "'He or she' versus 'they'". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- O'Conner, Patricia; Kellerman, Stewart (21 July 2009). "On Language - "All-Purpose Pronoun"". New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- "They". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
- Locker, Melissa (2019-12-10). "Merriam Webster Names 'They' As Its Word of the Year for 2019". Time. Retrieved 2019-12-10.