Frequently used (arguably incorrectly) as a pronoun in order to refer to a hypothetical gender-neutral person, instead of using the cumbersome combination "he/she" or "s/he". Some people have tried to "invent" a singular gender-neutral pronoun for English, but so far those attempts have failed miserably (thon, co, e, tey, hesh, hir).

For a long time, they was used in both a singular and plural sense. It was only in the 18th century when grammarians attemped to change English from a commonly evolving language to a static and controlled language ala French and their L'Académie Francaise that its singular use became an issue. Basing their rules on Latin, they dictated a number of such rules - see split infinitive for another example and why it wasn't a great idea.

Considering the singular use of they only violates convention and actually helps communication by providing a singular non-gendered pronoun that doesn't sound like a bad science fiction term, I'd say this is a rule meant to be broken. Language evolves, and there's no reason why the nature of this word can't change if enough people say it should change.

Among fans, "They" is shorthand for They Might Be Giants, an excessively eccentric rock band from New York consisting primarily of John Linnell and John Flansburgh (Though they've been known to sport up to three other band members with identical names.)

"They," probably arose from the band's full name being a mouthful in conversation. It is greatly in keeping with TMBG's lyrical style to have fans make grammatically playful comments like: "They are so great!"

They (?), pron. pl.; poss. Theirs; obj. Them. [Icel. þeir they, properly nom. pl. masc. of sa, s&umac;, þat, a demonstrative pronoun, akin to the English definite article, AS. s�xc7;, seo, &edh;aet, nom. pl. &edh;a. See That.]

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.

Jolif and glad they went unto here [their] rest And casten hem [them] full early for to sail. Chaucer.

They of Italy salute you. Heb. xiii. 24.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. Matt. v. 6.

They is used indefinitely, as our ancestors used man, and as the French use on; as, they say (French on dit), that is, it is said by persons not specified.


© Webster 1913.

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