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English citations of they, them, their, theirs, and en

Pronoun: group of people, animals, plants or objectsEdit

  • 2000, Exploring Life Science →ISBN, page 406:
    Most animals use their hands to move from place to place; humans use their hands for other tasks.
  • 2008, John E. Cooper, Birds of Prey: Health and Disease, page 20:
    Raptors use their feet to capture their prey[.]
  • 2014, Ruth Owen, How Do Plants Make Their Own Food?

Pronoun: single person of unspecified genderEdit

1478 1535 1594 1597 1611 1749 1805 1814 1850 1860 1866 1884 1895 1897 1952 1997 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2012
ME « 15th c. 16th c. 17th c. 18th c. 19th c. 20th c. 21st c.
  • 1325, Cursor Mundi:
    Bath ware made sun and mon,
    Aiþer wit þer ouen light
    For to tuin dai fra night,
  • 1535, Fisher, John, The wayes to perfect Religion[1]:
    [] for he neuer forſaketh any creature vnleſſe they before haue forſaken them ſelues.
    [] for he never forsaketh any creature unless they before have forsaken themselves.
  • 1382, Wycliffe's translation of the Bible, Ecclus. 38.35:
    Eche on in þer craft ys wijs.
    Each one in their craft is wise.
  • 1594, Shakespeare, William, The Comedy of Errors, act IV, scene 3, line 1172:
    There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
    As if I were their well-acquainted friend []
  • c. 1591–1595, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Romeo and Ivliet”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act III, scene iii]:
    Arise; one knocks; good Romeo, hide thyself. [] Hark, how they knock! Who's there?
  • Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
    • Wycliffe's Bible (1395) phrases the first part as "man and woman" rather than "man or woman", so that the "they" is plural: "thou schalt lede out the man and the womman, that diden a moost cursid thing, to the yatis of thy citee, and thei schulen be oppressid with stoonus."
  • [] if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
  • Upon which every body fell a laughing; as how could they help it?
  • 1805 November 12, Lord Byron, “To Hargreaves Hanson (letter)”, in The Works of Lord Byron[2], published 1898, Letters and Journals Vol. I:
    College improves in everything but Learning. Nobody here seems to look into an author, ancient or modern, if they can avoid it.
  • 1814, Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park[3], chapter 4:
    I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage.
  • 1850, Thackeray, William Makepeace, Pendennis[4]:
    Nobody prevents you, do they?
  • 1860, Eliot, George, The Mill on the Floss[5], OL 14008201M:
    But I shouldn't like to punish anyone, even if they'd done me wrong; I've done wrong myself too often.
  • 1866, Ruskin, John, The Crown of Wild Olive[6]:
    Now, nobody does anything well that they cannot help doing []
  • 1884 December 10, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter XXVI, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: (Tom Sawyer’s Comrade) [], London: Chatto & Windus, [], OCLC 458431182, page 263:
    That's always your way, Maim—always sailing in to help somebody before they're hurt.
  • 1895, Wilde, Oscar, The Importance of Being Earnest:
    It is my last reception, and one wants something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end of the season when everyone has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably not much.
  • 1897, James, Henry, What Maisie Knew[7], OL 7150009M:
    ‘No – there was some one in the cab.’ The only attenuation she could think of was after a minute to add: ‘But they didn't come up.’
  • 1952, White, E. B., Charlotte's Web, OL 23248482M:
    But somebody taught you, didn't they?
  • 1997, Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, (quoted edition: London: Bloomsbury, 2000, →ISBN Invalid ISBN, page 187):
    Someone knocked into Harry as they hurried past him. It was Hermione.
  • 2006, St. John Ambulance, First on the Scene: Student Reference Guide, →ISBN, Lesson 2, page 3:
    Place the casualty on their back with feet and legs raised—this is called the shock position. [emphasis in original] Once the casualty is positioned, cover them to preserve body heat, but do not overheat.
  • 2007, Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, (quoted edition: London: Bloomsbury, 2008, →ISBN, page 93):
    ‘I mean ... if somebody made a mistake,’ Harry went on, ‘and let something slip, I know they didn’t mean to do it. It’s not their fault,’ he repeated, again a little louder than he would usually have spoken.
  • 2008, Michelle Obama, quoted in Lisa Rogak, Michelle Obama in Her Own Words, New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2009. →ISBN, page 18:
    One thing a nominee earns is the right to pick the vice president that they think will best reflect their vision of the country, and I am just glad I will have nothing to do with it.
  • 2009, The Welfare of Domestic Fowl and Other Captive Birds →ISBN, page 104:
    Once a bird who has bonded to a person realises that that person will deny the bird their company for a few minutes because of the biting, the bird then has the incentive to cease biting.
  • 2010 November 11, Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs as Jeff Winger and Britta Perry, “Cooperative Calligraphy”, in Community, season 2, episode 8:
    Jeff: Someone in this room is hiding your pen. Wanna know why? They feel terrible. They made a mistake. They waited too long to come forward and now they feel bad.
    Britta: They should.
  • 2012 November, Barack Obama, Remarks by the President on Veterans Day
    No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home.
  • 2012, Stephen Mason, Electronic Signatures in Law →ISBN, page 33:
    Lord Hunter also indicated that the use of a familiar or pet name could be a valid signature provided it was proved that the writer signed their name usually in such a way.

Pronoun: single person of non-binary genderEdit

  • 2014, Sigrid Rausing, Granta 129: Fate →ISBN:
    I write 'they' because this is Sean's own 'preferred pronoun': they were born female and have a female body, but identify as 'genderqueer' rather than as 'male' or 'female'. Sometimes, they told me, they experience gender dysphoria []
  • 2014, Ivan E. Coyote, ‎Rae Spoon, Gender Failure →ISBN
    The boycott, led by Elisha Lim, of a Toronto gay and lesbian newspaper after it refused to use their preferred pronoun ["they"], citing grammar considerations, inspired me.

Pronoun: single person of specified sex or genderEdit

  • 1995, Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater →ISBN:
    *: Guys with small dry lips, they turn me off, [] I often look at their hands to see if they have strong, expressive hands. Then I imagine that they have a big dick. [] That guy I had in Aspen, [] With a younger guy you know it [erection] 's an easier thing. [] Everybody jerks their dick differently.
  • 2008, Kenneth David Chase, Fishing in the Right Pond - Finding and Pursuing Gay Guys in a Straight World →ISBN, page 57:
    Your dick is rock hard, dripping with pre-cum, and now you look to see if their dick is hard when when you roll them over on their back. If they have a huge bulge in their pants where their dick is rock hard too, grab it through their pants []
  • 2011, Carmen Caboom, Diary of a Vindictive Closet Freak: Love, Loss, Lust and Lies →ISBN, page 300:
    Somebody had been getting their pussy eaten, and it wasn't me.
  • 2015 April, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (mayor of Baltimore), commenting on the death of Freddie Gray:
    I'm angry that we're here again, that we have had to tell another mother that their child is dead.

Pronoun: single animal or plantEdit

  • 1859, 1859, A new dictionary of quotations from the Greek, Latin, and modern languages [] second thousand (London, John Farquhar Shaw), page 34 (translating a Latin proverb):
    "To the ass, the sow, and every animal, their own offspring appears the fairest in the whole creation."
  • 1887, Hiram Erastus Butler, The Seven Creative Principles, page 60:
    This law of order, united with the other principles, gives every plant, every vegetable, and every animal their distinct form, by virtue of the quality of the germ-life coming from its parental source.
  • 2008, Tina Ganton, His Image: Photo Devotionals →ISBN, page 24:
    As I sat on my deck one morning, I was reminded of God's choir through nature. He has given every bird their own special song. Bluebirds, cardinals, and robins []

Pronoun: less-clear citationsEdit

Are these singular or plural?:
  • 2005, The Bird Observer: The Official Organ of the Bird Observers' Club, Issues 834-845:
    For such a tiny bird, their wing beats are surprisingly loud.
  • 2010, Theresa West, Sister Theresa's Lighthouse: Collection of Gospel Quotes →ISBN:
    “God gives every bird their food,
    Yes, but he does not toss it into their nests.”
  • 2014, Heather Shropshire, The Dragon Bard →ISBN, page 12:
    Depending on the type, raising, and age of the dragon, their interests may change. An example of this can be seen, although this is not exactly the best example, in the desires of a child. The desires of a child change greatly as the child grows older, going from simple toys to wealth.


  • 1993, John Taggart, Remaining in Light: Ant Meditations on a Painting By Edward Hopper (SUNY Press, →ISBN), page 123:
    While the latter is taken up with all sorts of description of the beloved, description which would constitute the contents of the book, the key to it all is a "they" asking the speaker for such a volume in the first place. Ordinarily, no one asks. Books are written in and against a nul[l] space of hypothetical readers' desire. Once a manuscript has been submitted to a publisher, though, this can change. There is a "they" there. They are the editors and the outside readers hired by the editors.

Noun-ish: an other or group of othersEdit

  • 2007, Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, Motivational Aspects of Prejudice and Racism (Springer Science & Business Media, →ISBN), page 111:
    ... then attempts to ameliorate bias should be directed not at eliminating these processes entirely, which are functional in many ways, but rather at redirecting the forces of ingroup bias to produce more harmonious intergroup relations. By shifting the basis of categorization from race to an alternative dimension, shared by Blacks and Whites who may be interacting, we can potentially alter who is a “we” and who is a “they,” undermining a potentially contributing force to aversive racism.
  • 2009, Todd D. Nelson, Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination (Psychology Press, →ISBN), page 489:
    by shifting the basis of categorization from race to an alternative dimension shared by African Americans and European Americans who may be interacting, it might be possible to alter who is a “we” and who is a “they” through recategorization, and thereby undermine a potentially contributing force to intergroup biases. In this chapter, we summarize research on a prejudice reduction strategy, the common ingroup identity model (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2000; Gaertner, Dovidio, Anastasio, Bachman, & Rust, 1993), which has guided our work on the reduction of intergroup bias.

Noun-ish: a plural, a groupEdit

  • 2012, Advances in Homeland Security Research and Application: 2011 Edition (→ISBN):
    .Second, George W Bush was a failed “reconstructive President” who came up short in his efforts to persuade the public and the courts to embrace a constitutional vision of vast, unilateral, and judicially unreviewable executive branch authority to combat terrorist threats. Third, the Supreme Court is a “they,” not an “it,” whose War on Terror rulings have often reflected, as future decisions are likely also to represent, the chance dominance of the view of the median Justice.
  • 2014, Mark Bovens, Robert E. Goodin, Thomas Schillemans, The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability (OUP Oxford, →ISBN):
    ... one thing, Congress is a “they,” not an “it,” and furthermore bureaucrats have other principals besides the multiple principals in Congress itself.