Definition of they pronoun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



    BrE BrE//ðeɪ//
    ; NAmE NAmE//ðeɪ//
    (used as the subject of a verb)
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  1. 1  people, animals or things that have already been mentioned or are easily identified ‘Where are John and Liz?’ ‘They went for a walk.’ They (= the things you are carrying) go on the bottom shelf.
  2. 2  used instead of he or she to refer to a person whose sex is not mentioned or not known If anyone arrives late they'll have to wait outside. More AboutgenderWays of talking about men and women When you are writing or speaking English it is important to use language that includes both men and women equally. Some people may be very offended if you do not.The human race Man and mankind have traditionally been used to mean ‘all men and women’. Many people now prefer to use humanity, the human race, human beings or people.Jobs The suffix -ess in names of occupations such as actress, hostess and waitress shows that the person doing the job is a woman. Many people now avoid these. Instead you can use actor or host (although actress and hostess are still very common), or a neutral word, such as server for waiter and waitress. Neutral words like assistant, worker, person or officer are now often used instead of -man or -woman in the names of jobs. For example, you can use police officer instead of policeman or policewoman, and spokesperson instead of spokesman or spokeswoman. Neutral words are very common in newspapers, on television and radio and in official writing, in both British English and North American English. When talking about jobs that are traditionally done by the other sex, some people say: a male secretary/nurse/model (NOT man) or a woman/female doctor/barrister/driver. However this is now not usually used unless you need to emphasize which sex the person is, or it is still unusual for the job to be done by a man/​woman: My daughter prefers to see a woman doctor.They have a male nanny for their kids.a female racing driverPronouns He used to be considered to cover both men and women: Everyone needs to feel he is loved. This is not now acceptable. Instead, after everybody, everyone, anybody, anyone, somebody, someone, etc. one of the plural pronouns they, them, and their is often used: Does everybody know what they want?Somebody’s left their coat here.I hope nobody’s forgotten to bring their passport with them. Some people prefer to use he or she, his or her, or him or her in speech and writing: Everyone knows what’s best for him- or herself. He/​she or (s)he can also be used in writing: If in doubt, ask your doctor. He/​she can give you more information. (You may find that some writers just use ‘she’.) These uses can seem awkward when they are used a lot. It is better to try to change the sentence, using a plural noun. Instead of saying: A baby cries when he or she is tired you can say Babies cry when they are tired.
  3. 3  people in general The rest, as they say, is history.
  4. 4  people in authority or experts They cut my water off. They now say that red wine is good for you.
  5. Word OriginMiddle English: from Old Norse their, nominative plural masculine of ; related to them and their, also to that and the.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: they