Phrase "They who arrive early will get the best selection of seats"

Please have a look at this sentence:

They who arrive early will get the best selection of seats
-> This is a correction question, and the mistake is in the word “they”. I really can’t understand why it is wrong as I have seen people use that structure in many materials. (i.e: “He who teaches ill, teaches all” or “he who must not be named”) And if it is really unacceptable in formal english, then how can it be corrected?

Many thanks

“He/she who arrives early will get the best selection of seats.” would be better, IMO, because the plural ‘they’ sounds a little illogical here. Strictly speaking, people arrive in order so the sentence applies in the best sense to ‘one by one’.

But I’ve heard that there’s a tendency to use “they” instead of “he/she”…

Hi Nessie

This has nothing to do with he/she vs they. In this case, you should replace ‘they’ with ‘those’. The meaning is basically ‘the people’/‘those people’:

  • Those who arrive early …

There is the famous line “They also serve who only stand and wait” – but that was written in the 17th century, I think. It sounds so nice that I’m not surprised people try to emulate it, even though it’s not modern usage.

Thanks a lot, everybody :slight_smile:

Hi Amy,
I know “those who…” is completely right, but I just still wonder about “they who…”. As stated above, I’ve seen an English proverb: “He who teaches ill, teaches all”. Also, I found these in the BNC:

  1. We’ve all taken off together on this flight and there aren’t any parachutes in this aircraft.He who wants to jump out should jump out now.’;

  2. A mature Christian is in no doubt that God’s concern for this world is greater than ours.He who valued life so much to enter it in the form of a human person must be committed to its survival.

  3. If they who are elected to legislate for our society should unfortunately decide to pass a disastrous measure of legislation that will allow the public promotion of contraception and an access hitherto unlawful to the means of contraception, they ought to know clearly the meaning of their action, when it is judged by the norms of objective morality and the certain consequences of such a law…

  4. Moreover I have given order that they who collect my dues take from you no more than the tenth, because so it is appointed by the custom of the Moors, and it is what ye have been wont to pay.

  5. They say this to the very people who have been the bedrock of this organization, the very people that built the organization.They who have kept the membership going under the Tory regime and they that have suffered the effects of recession and job, job losses and brought, brought about by the Tories.

=> If this syntax is not very common, might it be another difference between British English and American English, or perhaps it’s old English as Barb_D said?

Many thanks

Hi Nessie

“They who” would tend to sound archaic or poetic (or possibly excessively formal) in your sentence. However, your sentence does not appear fit those categories. :wink:

Your 3rd example is extremely formal.

Your 4th example is clearly an older form of English.

In your 5th example, the part with ‘they who’ seems to be a stylized way of emphasizing who is meant by ‘they’.
By the way, are you sure you typed that sentence exactly right?

Thank you very much, Amy :slight_smile:

May be you’re right about the use of “they who” as old English. As for the 5th example, I don’t know whether it’s correct or not. I just copied it, not typed :P:P

Hi Nessie

If that’s exactly the way you found sentence 5, then it tends to support my suggestion that the person was probably speaking emphatically.

I would agree with Barb and Amy: “they who” is unsuitable in that context because it suggests a proverbial or literary usage.

No doubt people use it sometimes, of course. Sometimes, early in the morning, or late at night, you reach for the first pronoun that will do the job.


Sorry but I don’t get what you mean. :roll: :roll:

But “They who” goes quite well with “(best) selection of”.

Here, it would be maybe be unsuitable "“They who arrive early will get the best seats”, but I think the addition of “selection of” pushes the register up the scale a little and helps allow “those who” to become suitable.

And how about: “They who arrive early shall obtain the best seats”?

Sorry, it was a bit obscure. I meant that when people are e.g. tired, they are likely to say unusual things.

All the best,


Think religion … end of clue (smile)

OH OK Ill tell you … but please English people … think harder …

They does NOT refer to people … it refers to A PERSON and because we do not know if this person is a HE or a SHE we use the plural …

They who worship the Lord, will forever have a place in Heaven.

e.g. Who left their unbrella here? THEY will get wet today because it is raining! … no sex, then use plural!

bye bye and happy Easter (smile)

P.S. I think Amy was the closest if not correct !!!

Hi HamburgEnglish :),
Thanks for your idea :slight_smile:
Do you mean people use “they who” instead of “she who/he who” to avoid causing sexism? But do you agree that this usage is applied only in proverbial or literary cases?


P.S: Your nickname sounds special :stuck_out_tongue: Are you English? :wink:

I would agree that Amy is right; but I wouldn’t agree that “They” in:

  1. They who arrive early will get the best selection of seats.

is a case of “they” for “him/her”.

“Best selection of” here premodifies “seats”, and refers to a group of seats. Thus the context is of several people, not one.

All the best,


What’s your opinion on this, Hamburg?

They who arrive early will get the best seat.