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In "The Troubles" of U2, there is this :

Somebody stepped inside your soul
Somebody stepped inside your soul
Little by little they robbed and stole
Till someone else was in control

What I don't understand is why are we using "they" here ? Is this referring to the person that "stepped inside the soul" or is it about other people ?
If it is referring to somebody, what are the rules that enables us to use they while it's one specific person that stepped inside the soul, and not multiple people ?

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    You might find your answer if you search for singular they. – snailboat Sep 21 '14 at 12:20
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They here can mean "he", "she", or "anyone else". It is a general word for any of those. OxfordDictionaries defines they in this sense as "Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex", and they also give the definition "People in general".

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    Thank you ! In fact what made me wonder this was that I saw a french translation of this song where people translated "they" like it was plural, which made no sense to me. – Trevör Sep 21 '14 at 12:27
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    @TrevörAnneDenise: In terms of traditional grammar, "they" is plural, but so is "you". There are some people who still frown upon the use of "they" as singular, but they're generally the type of people who think arbitrary grammar rules are more important than respect for other people. Having a non-gendered pronoun is important to avoid the sexist "he" when talking about an unknown/unspecific person where there's a traditional assumption that only a man would be in that role, and also for known people where their gender is unknown. – R.. Sep 21 '14 at 19:50
3

Yes, you absolutely can. Often "they" is used when the writer does not want to or cannot specify either "he" or "she". "They" can be used as a singular gender-neutral form in place of "he" or "she".

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