plural pronoun

t͟hem- How to pronounce themselves (audio)
: those identical ones that are they compare they sense 1
used reflexively, for emphasis, or in absolute constructions
nations that govern themselves
they themselves were present
themselves busy, they disliked idleness in others
: himself or herself : himself, herself
used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent
nobody can call themselves oppressedLeonard Wibberley
: their normal, healthy, or sane condition
were themselves again after a night's rest
Can they be used as an indefinite subject?: Usage Guide

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?: Usage Guide

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. In recent years, these pronouns have also been adopted by individuals whose gender identity is nonbinary, as illustrated in sense 3d above.

Word History

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of themselves was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near themselves

Cite this Entry

“Themselves.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


them·​selves t͟həm-ˈselvz How to pronounce themselves (audio)
: their own selves
nations that govern themselves
they themselves were present
: their normal or healthy condition
were themselves again after a nights rest

More from Merriam-Webster on themselves

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!