European travellers mention the commodious and well-built houses in which the wealthy merchants of Agra and Delhi lived. But the ordinary sorts lived in houses above their shops. The French traveller, Bernier, says that the merchants tried to look poor because they were afraid that they would be used like ‘fill'd sponges’, i.e., squeezed of their wealth. This does not appear to be fully correct. Emperors from the time of Sher Shah passed many laws for protecting the property of the merchants. The laws of Sher Shah are well known. Jahangir's ordinances included a provision that

if anyone, whether unbeliever or Musalman should die, his property and effects should be left for his heirs, and no one should interfere with them. If he should have no heirs, they should appoint inspectors and separate guardians to guard the property, so that its value might be expended in a lawful expenditure, such as the building of mosques and sarais, repair of broken bridges and the digging of tanks and wells.

However, local officials could always abuse their power to harass traders.

who is 'they' here = emperor or trader himself?

OR there is any misuse of 'they' here?

  • What is the source of the quote? Apr 19, 2021 at 2:35
  • @JackO'Flaherty india's ancient past by RS Sharma Apr 19, 2021 at 3:33
  • 1
    It looks to me as though the passage in question is being quoted by Sharma from a translation of Jahangir's ordinances. Either it's a poor translation, or they refers to people mentioned in a previous paragraph that isn't included. Presumably it means 'the authorities'. Apr 19, 2021 at 8:11

1 Answer 1


If anyone should die [...] his property and effects [1] should be left for his heirs [2], and no one should interfere with them. If he should have no heirs, they should appoint inspectors and separate guardians to guard the property,

The first pronoun in the passage, them, pretty clearly refers to Nouns 1 (his property and effects). The second pronoun they is less clear. Using the standard English "nearest noun" rule, it seems like them should refer to Nouns 2 (his heirs)... but the sentence is explaining what to do if there are no heirs, so that doesn't make sense. Moving farther back, they could refer to Nouns 1 again, but "property and effects" can't appoint any inspectors so that doesn't make sense either.

It it possible that they could refer all the way back to "anyone," and mean that a person who does not have any heirs should, before his death, appoint proper inspectors to deal with his estate after his passing. In modern terms we would call this the executor of a will. But the passage consistently uses "he" to refer to "anyone," so it is unlikely the author would suddenly use "they" instead.

Using some common sense we can guess that they refers to the local officials, whose duties include appointing inspectors to properly look after the property of people who died with no heirs. But this is not backed up by the text, and as it is written I would say it is a misuse of the pronoun.

Is there perhaps even more context we aren't seeing? Perhaps before the sentence about "Emperors from the time of Sher Shah" there is bit about the duties of local officials? That's the only way I could see the pronoun they making sense.

  • I think, 'they' = more that one 'he' i.e. merchants Apr 19, 2021 at 3:45
  • @ketan the additional sentences you provided at the beginning of the passage does make it seem like "they" could refer to the merchants. But I don't think this makes a lot of sense in context. I think it's more likely that "they" is part of the original wording in the law, probably referring to "local officials" or some similar term, and it was left in the quote.
    – randomhead
    Apr 19, 2021 at 3:59

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