The following examples were mainly turned up in a fairly unsophisticated
search by myself (Henry Churchyard,
using the Jane Austen e-texts which are freely
available on-line over the Internet (not the official Oxford University
e-texts); the search patterns were basically the morphemes "any", "each",
"every", "no", "one", and "who(m)", found preceding "their" or "themselves"
within the same orthographic sentence; and the morpheme "body" found preceding
any of the "they" words within the same orthographic sentence. A few
additional examples come from Jespersen.
I have not included some examples where there is not a real choice between
"their" and "his" (i.e. it would be impossible, even for the most rigid
followers of the 19th century tradition of the prescriptive "generic
masculine", to substitute "he/him/his" in place of "they/them/their"); a
typical example is Mr. Knightley's "He had used every body ill -- and they are
all delighted to forgive him", from Emma.
In the listing below, the examples are arranged by novel (the six novels
are alphabetized by title), and then by relative order of occurrence within
each novel. Examples from other writings follow those from the novels. I
make no claim that these lists are exhaustive.
"Every body was punctual, every body in their best
looks: not a tear, and hardly a long face to be seen."
"but it is not every body who will bestow praise where
they may. You do not often overpower me with it."
Emma Woodhouse to Mr. Knightley [discussing Harriet Smith]:
"Who is in love with her? Who makes you their
"Whoever might be her parents, ... whoever may have had the charge of
her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan to
introduce her into what you would call good society."
"At Christmas every body invites their friends about
them, and people think little of even the worst weather."
Mr. Elton [rejecting Emma's idea of his being attached to Harriet
"I wish her extremely well: and, no doubt, there are men who might not
object to -- Every body has their level: but as for myself, I
am not, I think, quite so much at a loss...."
"It is very unfair to judge of any body's conduct, without an intimate
knowledge of their situation."
"he [Frank Churchill] was still unwilling to admit... that there would
be the smallest difficulty in every body's returning into
their proper place the next morning."
"this must be the very shop that every body attends every day of
their lives, as my father informs me."
Emma Woodhouse to Frank Churchill:
"As to the pretence of [Jane Fairfax] trying her native air, I look
upon that as a mere excuse. -- In the summer it might have passed; but what can
any body's native air do for them in the months of January,
February, and March?"
Emma Woodhouse's reported thoughts:
"for they say every body is in love once in their
lives, and I shall have been let off easily."
"[Mr. Woodhouse] was happily placed, quite at his ease, ready to
talk with pleasure of what had been achieved, and advise every body to come
and sit down, and not to heat themselves."
Frank Churchill [on Box Hill]:
"I say nothing of which I am ashamed ... Let every body on the Hill
hear me if they can."
Narrator's rephrasing of Emma Woodhouse's comments on the birth of
Mrs. Weston's daughter:
"and Mrs. Weston -- no one could doubt that a daughter would be
most to her; and it would be quite a pity that any one who so well knew how to
teach, should not have their powers in exercise again."
"Nobody meant to be unkind, but nobody put themselves
out of their way to secure her comfort."
"I would have every body marry if they can do it
properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but every body
should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage."
"With all due respect to such of the present company as chance to be
married, my dear Mrs. Grant, there is not one in a hundred of either sex
who is not taken in when they marry."
"Lady Bertram made no objection [to the plans for the Sotherton
visit]; and every one concerned in the going was forward in expressing
their ready concurrence, excepting Edmund, who heard it all
and said nothing."
"At any rate, it is safer to leave people to their own devices on such
subjects. Every body likes to go their own way -- to chuse
their own time and manner of devotion."
"Poor Julia, the only one out of the nine not tolerably satisfied with
Narrator [paraphrasing Maria Bertram's reflections on the date of her
father's return, and her projected marriage]:
"It would hardly be early in November; there were generally
delays, a bad passage or something; that favouring something
which every body who shuts their eyes while
they look, or their understandings while
they reason, feels the comfort of."
"Every body around her [Fanny Price] was gay and busy, prosperous and
important; each had their object of interest,
their part, their dress, their favourite
scene, their friends and confederates: all were finding
employment in consultations and comparisons, or diversion in the playful
conceits they suggested. She alone was sad and insignificant"
"He has a fine dignified manner, which suits the head of such a house,
and keeps every body in their place."
"Every body began to have their vexation."
"So far from being all satisfied and all enjoying, she found everybody
requiring something they had not, and giving occasion of
discontent to the others. Everybody had a part either too long or too short;
nobody would attend as they ought; nobody would remember on
which side they were to come in; nobody but the complainer
would observe any directions."
"To say the truth, ... I am something like the famous Doge at the
court of Louis XIV; and may declare that I see no wonder in this shrubbery
equal to seeing myself in it. If any body had told me a year ago that this
place would be my home, that I should be spending month after month here, as I
have done, I certainly should not have believed them!"
"Had the doctor been contented to take my dining-table when I came
away, as any body in their senses would have done, instead of
having that absurd new one of his own, which is wider, literally wider than
the dinner-table here, how infinitely better it would have been!"
"In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of
Mrs. Grant and her sister, that after making up the
whist-table there would remain sufficient
[number of people] for a round game, and
everybody being as perfectly complying and without a choice as on such
occasions they always are, [the card game] speculation was
decided on almost as soon as whist..."
[Mary Crawford] tried to laugh off her feelings by saying,
"Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which every body
settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than
"It is every body's duty to do as well for themselves
as they can."
Narrator, reporting Fanny Price's reflections:
"It was the abode of noise, disorder, and impropriety. Nobody was in
their right place, nothing was done as it ought to be."
"At Mansfield, no sounds of contention, no raised voice, no abrupt
bursts, no tread of violence, was ever heard; all proceeded in a regular
course of cheerful orderliness; every body had their due
importance; every body's feelings were consulted."
"The doors were in constant banging, the stairs were never at rest, nothing was done without a clatter, nobody sat still, and nobody could command attention when they spoke."
"It was a lovely morning, and at that season of the year a fine
morning so often turned off, that it was wisest for every body not to delay
Narrator (chapter 47):
"It had been a miserable party, each of the three believing
themselves most miserable."
"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious
subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly in
fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with
all the rest."
"I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may
be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of
unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary
much as to time in different people."
"She was of course only too good for him; but as nobody minds having
what is too good for them, he was very steadily earnest in the
pursuit of the blessing, and it was not possible that encouragement from her
should be long wanting. Timid, anxious, doubting as she was, it was still
impossible that such tenderness as hers should not, at times, hold out the
strongest hope of success, though it remained for a later period to tell him
the whole delightful and astonishing truth."
"if we knew anybody we would join them directly. The
Skinners were here last year -- I wish they were here now."
"I am sure of this -- that if every body was to drink
their bottle a day, there would not be half the disorders in
the world there are now."
"We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space
of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that
time. Nobody can fasten
themselves on the
notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other."
Henry Tilney [this is the only time that Jane Austen uses "he or she" in
the six novels]:
"You will allow that in both [dancing and marriage], man has the
advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an
engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that
when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment
of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other
no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed
and their best interest, to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards
the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been
better off with anyone else."
"if I do not know any body, it is impossible for me to talk to
them; and, besides, I
do not want to talk to anybody."
"But every body has their failing, you know, and
every body has a right to do what they like with
their own money."
"With whomsoever he was, or was likely to be connected, his own
consequence always required that theirs should be great, and
as his intimacy with any acquaintance grew, so regularly grew their fortune."
"I, John Shepherd, might conceal any family-matters that I chose, for
nobody would think it worth their while to observe me."
Narrator (Anne Eliot's thoughts):
"She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for
having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar
circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never
receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good."
"Elizabeth could not conceive how such an absurd suspicion should
occur to her [Anne], and indignantly answered for each party's perfectly
knowing their situation." [i.e. Sir Walter and
"Every body has their taste in noises as well as in
other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their
sort rather than their quantity."
"What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body
would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell
"Everybody's heart is open, you know, when they have
recently escaped from severe pain, or are recovering the blessing of health,
and Nurse Rooke thoroughly understands when to speak."
"You wanted me, I know, to say ``Yes,'' that you might have the
pleasure of despising my taste; but I always delight in overthrowing those
kind of schemes, and cheating a person of
contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to
dance a reel at all -- and now despise me if you dare."
"I cannot pretend to be sorry ... that he
[Darcy] or that any man should not
be estimated beyond their
deserts; but with him I believe it does not often happen."
"The whole of what Elizabeth had already heard, his
[Wickham's] claims on
Mr. Darcy, and all that he had
suffered from him, was now openly acknowledged and publicly canvassed; and
every body was pleased to think how much
they had always disliked
Mr. Darcy before
they had known any thing of the matter."
"In truth I must acknowledge that, with all the disadvantages of
this humble parsonage, I should not think any one abiding in it an object of
compassion while they are sharers of our intimacy at
"But to expose the former faults of any person, without knowing what
their present feelings
were, seemed unjustifiable."
"All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man, who, but three
months before, had been almost an angel of light. ... Every body declared
that he [Wickham] was the wickedest
young man in the world; and every body began to find out that
they had always distrusted
the appearance of his goodness."
Narrator [the referents are Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, two women,
so "themselves" was not used instead of "herself" for reasons of
"Both sisters were uncomfortable enough. Each felt for the other, and
of course for
themselves; and their
mother talked on, of her dislike of
Mr. Darcy, and her resolution
to be civil to him only as
Mr. Bingley's friend, without
being heard by either of them."
"they were wise enough to be contented with the house as it was; and
each of them was busy in arranging their particular concerns,
and endeavouring, by placing around them books and other possessions, to form
themselves a home." [Refers to women only.]
"The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the Park, with
his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and raised the
wonder, of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days: she was a great wonderer,
as every one must be who takes a very lively interest in all the comings and
goings of all their acquaintance."
Edward Ferrars [to Marianne Dashwood]:
"Perhaps, then, you would bestow it as a reward on that person who
wrote the ablest defence of your favourite maxim, that no one can ever be
in love more than once in their life -- your opinion on
that point is unchanged, I presume?"
"But remember that the pain of parting from friends will be felt by
every body at times, whatever be their education or state."
"Whoever may have been so detestably your enemy, let
them be cheated of their malignant triumph,
my dear sister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence
and good intentions supports your spirits."
"Had both the children been there, the affair might have been
determined too easily by measuring them at once; but as Harry only was
present, it was all conjectural assertion on both sides; and every body had a
right to be equally positive in their opinion, and to repeat
it over and over again as often as they liked."
[Only women are referred to here also.]
"The two mothers, though each really convinced that her own son was
the tallest, politely decided in favour of the other. The two grandmothers,
with not less partiality, but more sincerity, were equally earnest in support
of their own descendant." [I.e., each grandmother thought
her own grandson was the tallest. This is a somewhat odd use of singular
"their", since there is no accompanying indefinite quantifying word.]
"Well! ... that is her revenge. Every body has a way of
their own. But I don't think mine would be to make one son
independent because another had plagued me."
Ann Steele [a.k.a. "Nancy"]:
"But it [i.e. that Edward Ferrars would give up Lucy Steele] was said,
I know very well, and by more than one; for Miss Godby told Miss Sparks that
nobody in their senses could expect Mr. Ferrars to give
up a woman like Miss Morton, with thirty thousand pounds to her fortune, for
Lucy Steele, that had nothing at all; and I had it from Miss Sparks myself."
"Every thing that the most zealous affection, the most solicitous
care, could do to render her comfortable, was the office of each watchful
companion, and each found their reward in her bodily ease,
and her calmness of spirits."
"I have not a doubt of it," said Marianne; "and I have nothing to
regret -- nothing but my own folly." "Rather say your mother's imprudence, my
child," said Mrs. Dashwood: "she must be answerable." Marianne
would not let her proceed; and Elinor, satisfied that each felt
their own error, wished to avoid any survey of the past that
might weaken her sister's spirits... [Again, singular "their" refers to
each of two women, and so has nothing to do with gender-neutrality.]
"They each felt his [Colonel Brandon's] sorrows, and
their own obligations, and Marianne, by general consent, was
to be the reward of all."
These are from one of Jane Austen's earlier Juvenilia.
"The Company now advanced to a Gaming Table where sat 3
Dominos (each with a bottle in
their hand) deeply
engaged; but a female in the character of Virtue fled with hasty footsteps
from the shocking scene, whilst a little fat woman, representing Envy, sat
alternately on the foreheads of the 3 Gamesters."
"when a person has too great a degree of red in
it gives their face, in my opinion, too red a look."
Alice Johnson, echoed by Lady Williams:
[Alice Johnson:] "But Madam, I deny that it is possible for any
one to have too great a proportion of red in
[Lady Williams:]"What, my Love, not if
they have too much
"considering all things, I do not think you so much to blame as
many People do; for when a person is in Liquor, there is no answering for what
they may do."
This is from one of Jane Austen's later Juvenilia.
"At length, however, Sophy proposed that to please Mr. W. it [the
new carriage] should be a dark brown, and to please Mary it should be hung
rather high and have a silver Border. This was at length agreed to, tho'
reluctantly on both sides, as each had intended to carry
their point entire."
"Mrs. Pole also said that no Books had ever occasioned so much
canvassing & doubt, & that everybody was desirous to attribute them to
some of their own
friends, or to some person of whom they thought highly."
"Lady Sondes' match surprises, but does not offend me; ... but I
consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their
lives for love, if they can."
It's interesting that Jane Austen seems to use singular "their"
less often in her letters than in her novels -- the Brabourne
edition of the Letters (3 examples found) contains more text
written by her than either Northanger Abbey (7
examples found) or Persuasion (6 examples
found). This shows fairly clearly that she didn't see singular "they" as
colloquial or non-literary (since there are some expressions -- such as
the word "funny" -- that she uses in her
letters, but never in her novels or other literary writings).
A quick search for 3rd. sg. masculine personal pronouns used generically
turned up only one clear example (the first of the two below). This search was admittedly
rudimentary (the morpheme "body" preceding a masc. sg. pronoun within the same
orthographic sentence), but the parallel search for "body" preceding a plural
pronoun would turn up over 40 examples of singular "their" etc. (The relative
paucity of the generic masculine in Jane Austen can be seen from the fact that
the same search that turned up only one clear example of the generic
masculine also caught five cases of singular "their" etc., even though I had
not been searching for the plural pronoun forms!)
"I do not know any body who seems more to enjoy the power of doing
what he likes than
The History of England (Henry the 8's reign)
"Tho' I do not profess giving many dates, yet as I think it proper to
give some & shall of course make choice of those which it is most
necessary for the Reader to know, I think it right to inform
him that her letter to the
King was dated on the 6th of May."
This shows the number of occurrences of singular "their" (etc.) in each of
the texts, with narration and non-narration tabulated separately, and
non-narration broken down into individual characters. (Here "narration" is
defined simply as whatever is not between orthographic quotation marks and not
part of a letter.)
Jane Austen clearly does not confine this construction to characters which
might be expected to use "bad language" (unlike the "me and..." as
verb-subject construction discussed above, for which the
statistics are Narration: 0, Lydia Bennet: 3,
Lucy Steele: 2, Mrs. Elton: 1 -- or the word "fun", for which the statistics
are Narration: 0, Lydia Bennet: 8,
John Thorpe: 1 -- or the phrase "you was", for which the
statistics are Narration: 0, Lucy Steele: 3,
Nancy Steele: 1 -- or "had took" / "have took", for which the statistics are Lucy Steele: 4 -- or "says I" as verb+subject, which occurs twice in Mrs. Jennings' speech -- or "ain't" for which the statistics,
ignoring two occurrences of jocular interrogative "Ain't I?", are Narration:
0, Mrs. Jennings: 3, Nancy Steele:
2, Fanny ("Mrs. John") Dashwood: 1, and
Lucy Steele: 1).
Note that these statistics count the number of sentences (or short groups
of two or three sentences) in which singular "their" etc. is found, and not
the number of individual occurrences of such pronoun words (the total of the
latter is at least 109).
Total number of occurrences of singular "their", etc.: 87
Total number in narration, and in Jane Austen's non-literary writings: 37
Total in quotations and in literary (fictitious) letters: 50