their

adjective \ t͟hər , ˈt͟her \
Updated on: 1 Mar 2018

Definition of their

1 : of or relating to them or themselves especially as possessors, agents, or objects of an action
  • their furniture
  • their verses
  • their being seen
2 : his or her : his, her, its used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent
  • anyone in their senses
  • —W. H. Auden

Can they be used as an indefinite subject?

They used as an indefinite subject (sense 2) is sometimes objected to on the grounds that it does not have an antecedent. Not every pronoun requires an antecedent, however. The indefinite they is used in all varieties of contexts and is standard.


Can they, their, them, and themselves be used as singular pronouns?

They, their, them, themselves: English lacks a common-gender third person singular pronoun that can be used to refer to indefinite pronouns (such as everyone, anyone, someone). Writers and speakers have supplied this lack by using the plural pronouns.
    • and every one to rest themselves betake
    • —William Shakespeare
    • I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly
    • —Jane Austen
    • it is too hideous for anyone in their senses to buy
    • —W. H. Auden
The plural pronouns have also been put to use as pronouns of indefinite number to refer to singular nouns that stand for many persons.
    • 'tis meet that some more audience than a mother, since nature makes them partial, should o'erhear the speech
    • —William Shakespeare
    • a person can't help their birth
    • —W. M. Thackeray
    • no man goes to battle to be killed. — But they do get killed
    • —G. B. Shaw
The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts. This gives you the option of using the plural pronouns where you think they sound best, and of using the singular pronouns (such as he, she, he or she, and their inflected forms) where you think they sound best.


Examples of their in a Sentence

  1. All the furniture in their house is brand-new.

  2. They are on friendly terms with their neighbors.

  3. The students are seeking to exercise their rights.

  4. The birds have left their nest.

  5. The trees have all shed their leaves.

  6. Their artwork is on display at the museum.

  7. He was angry because of their arriving late.

Recent Examples of their from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'their.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

there vs. they're vs. their

There, they're, and their: they sound the same but have different meanings and keeping them straight can be very tricky.

We'll start with there. It has the word here in it, which can help remind us that this particular word is often about location:

There it is.

Put it there.

Stay there.

We'll be there soon.

It's about location in the more abstract sense too:

There you go.

There is where we disagree.

Friends who are always there for you.

It's also the one to use as the first word in sentences that have the subject after the verb:

There goes the bus.

And it's the one used with is and are at the beginning of sentences and questions:

There are plenty available.

Is there a hotel in the town?

The other two are trickier because they both have the idea of the plural in them. Both are connected to the idea of "them."

They're means "they are":

They're (=they are) funny people.

They're (=they are) the cutest puppies ever.

It can be used of non-living things too:

They're (=they are) both really good books.

They're (=they are) two of our biggest problems.

The last of this trio, their, is the possessive form of they, so it has to do with what belongs to, relates to, or is made or done by certain people, animals, or things:

It's their house.

We're their neighbors.

The trees are losing their leaves.

And there you go. They're not an easy group of words, but with practice we know you can master their distinctions.

Origin and Etymology of their

Middle English, from their, pronoun, from Old Norse theirra, genitive plural demonstrative & personal pronoun; akin to Old English thæt that

THEIR Defined for English Language Learners

their

Definition of their for English Language Learners

  • : relating to or belonging to certain people, animals, or things : made or done by certain people, animals, or things

  • : his or her : his : her : its


THEIR Defined for Kids

their

adjective \ t͟hər , ˈt͟her \

Definition of their for Students

: of or relating to them or themselves especially as owners or as agents or objects of an action
  • their clothes
  • their deeds

Headscratcher for their

It's easy to mix up their, they're and there. Their and they're are both forms of the third person pronoun. Their means “belonging to them.” They're means “they are.” There is not related in meaning but means “in that place.” Here is a sentence that uses all three: They're on their way there.


Seen and Heard

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