Normally you say:

  • they do


  • they does.

But normally they is plural, not singular. What happens if they is singular? Can you use say "they does" like you'd say "it does"?

  • When is "they" singular? I can't think of any case for "they does". Can you provide more detail? Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:41
  • @laugh: We have a tag for singular they, you know, and Wikipedia has an article on it. It's for cases where you don't know, or don't wish to express, whether an individual is male or female but would normally use a (male or female) pronoun. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 10:02
  • Ah... I didn't realise this was the intent. Obvious after you stated it... Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 10:18
  • To put it briefly, "they" can be semantically singular (it can mean just one thing) but it's always grammatically plural (you always conjugate the verb like the subject was plural).
    – stangdon
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 11:24
  • Bear in mind that "you" was originally just a plural pronoun, and it got extended to cover the singular - but the verb forms used with "you" remain plural - hence "you do", not "you dost" ("dost" was the 2nd person singular verb form in the days before "you" extended its reach). OTOH, the singular reflexive of "you" is "yourself". Perhaps eventually "themself" wll be accepted as the singular reflexive of "they", but for now the standard form is "themselves" even when the referent is singular.
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


When common nouns are used in Subjects, the verb usually agrees with the noun. So if the noun is singular, we see 3rd person singular agreement. If it is plural we see plural agreement:

  • The parrot is cute.
  • Parrots are cute.

However, when a pronoun is used as a Subject, the verb always agrees with the pronoun. It doesn't matter what the meaning of the pronoun is!!

So when we use the pronoun one, it doesn't matter if it means "we" or "you" or "people", the verb is always 3rd person singular.

  • One is in a bad mood today. (means You are in a bad mood today)

When the queen uses the pronoun we but she means "I", she still uses plural agreement:

  • We are not amused. (means I am not amused)

In the same way, when we use they as Subject, we always see plural verb agreement. It doesn't matter if we mean "he" or "she" or "that person" or "those people". The verb agrees with the pronoun, not what the pronoun means:

  • The new student is very happy. They always bring me chocolates after the lesson. (not brings!)
  • The new students are very happy. They always bring me chocolates after the lesson.

The Original Poster's question

We need to use do with they. We can't use does:

  • That student is unhappy. *They doesn't like maths. (ungrammatical)
  • That student is unhappy. They don't like maths.

"They" may be singular, but the verb is spelled as for plural.

Example from enter link description here

When I tell someone a joke, he laughs.


When I tell somebody a joke, they laugh.

You are confusing the difference between singular and plural in this case of the subject and how it is handled when conjugating the verb. Every conjugation table shows the different forms for 1st, 2nd and 3rd person, singular and plural.

  • I - 1st person singular
  • You - 2nd person singular and plural (English doesn't distinguish)
  • He/she/it - 3rd person singular
  • We - 1st person plural
  • They - 3rd person plural

And in a conjugation table it will show:

  • I do
  • You do
  • He/she/it does
  • We do
  • They do

Here, as the present tense, there is no occasion when the conjugation differs. If you were to find something that is not as described in a conjugation table then it would be an indicator of either poor grammar or that the case is not nominative, e.g. if you saw "... I were ..." instead of "... I was ...".

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