I found it in the Oxford learner's dictionary entry for the word snob. a person who thinks they are much better than other people ...

a person is singular, so they should say: who thinks he/she is ... instead. Or not?

  • 3
    Nowadays they is the accepted gender-neutral alternative, neither "he" nor "she".
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 6 at 23:04
  • I am not a native English speaker. I am learning. I don't know why my question was down voted.
    – Nadirspam
    Commented Apr 9 at 9:56
  • 1
    Not my downvote, but that question is asked frequently on this forum and some regulars here will expect you to have done a search on this site before asking a question.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 9 at 11:03

3 Answers 3


Some people use "they" as a singular pronoun of unspecified gender. They don't want to use "he" or "she" as this indicates a specific gender.

This brings up the whole subject of gender neutral pronouns, which I won't get into here. Suffice to say, some people believe we should have gender neutral pronouns.

The advantage of "singular they" is that it is pretty widely understood.

The disadvantage is that it can be misleading. It can lead the reader to think that more than one person is involved when the writer's intent is only one. Something done by an individual could be misunderstood to mean something done by a group. To take a simple example, consider, "We asked for volunteers. When they stepped forward they were sent on the mission." That certainly sounds like multiple people volunteered, when perhaps the intended meaning is only one person (of unspecified sex).

Note the same problem exists with the word "you", which can be singular or plural.


It is correct to say "a person who thinks they are".

This is because this sentence is a definition of a type of person (in this case, the type of person is a snob). A snob can be a male or a female, so a definition of a snob shouldn't be referring to a specific gender. This is why "who thinks he is" is wrong.

It is a mistake to think that this choice of gender neutral wording is a result of "today's" language use, or a product of our times. It is simply written like this because that is the correct definition of something that can be applied to both men and women.

To further your understanding, a definition of a waitress can use "her" instead of "they", because only females can be waitresses. So, an appropriate definition could be "a staff member who serves her tables at a restaurant".


I add to what @TimR said.

Nowadays, they is the accepted gender-neutral alternative.

The OP's dictionary example is hence fine.

We may also have noticed that the plural verb is used in the OP's example:

a person who thinks they are ...

M+W explains subject-verb agreement for singular they:

... the most natural-sounding verb is the one to use. They always goes with a plural verb, even when they is referring to a single person: “They are my friend."

Britannica gives more examples:

Find a babysitter who can prove they are responsible and are certified in CPR.

An employee will not do a good job if they don’t have the right training.

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