Randall McRoberts



■ pronoun [third person plural].

1 used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified.

   ▶ people in general.

   ▶ informal people in authority regarded collectively.

2 used to refer to a person of unspecified sex (in place of either ‘he’ or ‘he or she’).

—ORIGIN Middle English: from Old Norse their, nominative plural masculine of sá.


It is now widely held that the traditional use of he to refer to a person of either sex is outdated and sexist; the alternative, he or she, can be clumsy. It is now generally acceptable, therefore, to use they (with its counterparts them, their, and themselves) instead. This is especially the case where they follows an indefinite pronoun such as anyone or someone (anyone can join if they are a resident). In view of the growing acceptance of they, it is used in this dictionary in many cases where he would have been used formerly.


Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

I guess if OED can begrudgingly go along with an awkward usage, I can too.

Randall McRoberts