Can Someone Be a They?

WRITTEN February 20, 2012 Author: Rich Atkins

“They Say …” Who Is “They”?

Can Someone be a They?

  • I called the processing center. They said it will take an hour longer than usual to complete the project.”
  • They say that losing weight requires exercise and healthy eating.”
  • “I asked someone for directions, and they told me that the building is on the next block.”

When a pronoun takes the place of a noun, the pronoun must be equivalent to the word it replaces in number, person, and gender.


Here is an example of a pronoun that is not equal to the word it replaces (also called an “antecedent”):

Incorrect: I spoke to someone at the desk. Theysaid it will take five minutes. (How did one person turn into many people— “they”?)

To make an equal match between the pronoun and its antecedent, both must be either singular or plural.

Correct: I spoke to someone at the desk. She said it will take five minutes.


INDEFINITE PRONOUNS begin with “any,” every,” “no,” or “some,” and end with “-body,” “-one,” or “-thing.” These words are SINGULAR.

For these words, imagine adding “single” to reinforce the pronoun’s need for a singular verb, as in:

Everyone > Every (single) one

  • Everyone needs a friend.

Somebody > Some (single) body

  • Somebody needs help.

Anything > Any (single) thing

  • Anything goes.

No one > No (single) one

  • No one knows.
This information is from the Improving Communications Effective Business Writing class. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.

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