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English citations of they, them, their, and theirs

Pronoun: single person of unspecified gender[edit]

1478 1535
1611 1749 1805
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,
  • 1478 (earliest extant version), Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale
    And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame,
    They wol come up and offre a Goddés name,
    And I assoille hem by the auctoriee
    Which that by bulle y-graunted was to me.
  • 1535, John Fisher, 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.
  • 1597, William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Act III
    Arise; one knocks; good Romeo, hide thyself. [] Hark, how they knock! Who's there?
  • 1611, Bible (Authorized, or King James, Version), Deuteronomy 17:5
    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."
  • 1611, Bible (Authorized, or King James, Version), Matthew 18:35
    [] if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
  • 1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Book VIII, chapter xi
    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, Jane Austen, 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, William Makepeace Thackeray, Pendennis[4]:
    Nobody prevents you, do they?
  • 1860, George Eliot, 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, John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive[6]:
    Now, nobody does anything well that they cannot help doing []
  • 1884, Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chapter XXVI
    That's always your way, Maim—always sailing in to help somebody before they're hurt.
  • 1895, Oscar Wilde, 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, Henry James, 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, E. B. White, Charlotte's Web, OL 23248482M:
    But somebody taught you, didn't they?
  • 1997, J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, (quoted edition: London: Bloomsbury, 2000, ISBN 0 7475 5955 9, page 187):
    Someone knocked into Harry as they hurried past him. It was Hermione.
  • 2007, J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, (quoted edition: London: Bloomsbury, 2008, ISBN 978 0 7475 9586 1, 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 978 1 58648 762 1, 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 9048136504), 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”, 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.

Pronoun: single person of specified gender[edit]

  • 1995, Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater (ISBN 0547345739):
    Guys with small dry lips, they turn me off, [] 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 143483932X), 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 1467072990), 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 plant[edit]

  • 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 1434338312), 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 citations[edit]

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 1453521399):
    “God gives every bird their food,
    Yes, but he does not toss it into their nests.”
  • 2014, Heather Shropshire, The Dragon Bard (ISBN 1493197509), 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.