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She [ʃi:, ʃɪ], is a feminine pronoun of the third person, nominative case. The misuse of she for I (also for you and he) is common in literary representations of Highland English ("‘And here she comes,’ said Donald, as Captain Dalgetty entered the hall." — Walter Scott, The Legend of Montrose iv (1819)). It has also been used instead of it of things to which female sex is conventionally attributed. For a ship or boat (now chiefly in colloquial and dialect use), often said of a carriage, a cannon or gun, a tool or utensil of any kind and occasionally of other things. Also for abstractions personified as feminine and also of the soul, a city, the church, a country, an army, etc: Image File history File links Information_icon. ... Shortcut: WP:WIN Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia and, as a means to that end, also an online community. ... Shortcut: WP:CU Marking articles for cleanup This page is undergoing a transition to an easier-to-maintain format. ... This Manual of Style has the simple purpose of making things easy to read by following a consistent format — it is a style guide. ... Look up she in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun phrase. ... Grammatical person, in linguistics, is used for the grammatical categories a language uses to describe the relationship between the speaker and the persons or things she is talking about. ... The nominative case is a grammatical case for a noun. ... Highland English is the variety of Gaelic influenced Scottish English spoken in the Scottish Highlands. ... Portrait of Sir Walter Scott, by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a prolific Scottish historical novelist and poet popular throughout Europe during his time. ... 1819 common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... A colloquialism is an informal expression, that is, an expression not used in formal speech or writing. ...

Stanley had been ridiculing the habit of personifying the Church as a woman, and speaking of it tenderly as she.-- George C. Brodrick, Memory and Impressions (1900) 252

With all the pompous titles..bestowed upon France, she is not more than half so powerful as she might be.--The Annual Register III. Miscellaneous Essays (1760) 203

[He] told the Ambassadour, that the Turkes army was at Malta, and that she had saccaged the towne. -- Thomas Washington tr. Nicholay’s Voyages i. xiii. (1585) 14 b Thomas Washington (6 June 1865 - 15 December 1954) was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War I. // Early life and career Born at Goldsboro, North Carolina, Washington was appointed to the United States Naval Academy on 17 May 1883. ...

Rarely and archaically, it referred to an immaterial thing without personification. Also of natural objects considered as feminine, as the moon, or the planets that are named after goddesses; also of a river (now rare), formerly of the sea, a tree, etc. William Caxton in 1483 (The Golden Legende 112 b/2) and Robert Parke in 1588 (tr. Mendoza’s Historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, 340) used she for the sun, but this may possibly be due to misprint; survival of the Old English grammatical gender can hardly be supposed, but Caxton may have been influenced by the fact that the sun is feminine in Flemish. It has been used for her, as an object or governed by a preposition in literary use (now rare ["I want no angel, only she."--Olive Schreiner Story African Farm ii. xiii. (1889) 284]) or vulgarly, as an emphatic objective case: "‘I hope–our presence did not inconvenience–the young lady?’ ‘Bless your heart, sir! nothing ever inconveniences she’."--Miss Dinah Mulock Craik, John Halifax, gentleman x (1856). The printers device of William Caxton, 1478. ... The term Flemish can be a linguistic one, referring to the speech of the Flemings, inhabitants of Flanders, or a geographical one, referring to any attribute of Flanders, but not to its official language, which is exclusively Dutch. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with adposition. ...

Attributively, it's also applied to female animals, as in she-ass, -ape, -bear, -dog, -dragon, -sheep, -wolf, -lion [really a punning distortion of shilling], -stock, and -stuff [in the U.S. = cattle]. When applied to persons, it is now somewhat contemptuous, as in she-being, -cousin, dancer, thief, etc. She-friend meant a female friend, often in bad sense, i.e., a mistress; but she-saint, was simply a female saint. Rarely also prefixed to masculine nouns in place of the (frequently later) feminine noun in -ess, e.g., "They took her for their Patroness, and consequently for their she God."--Daniel Brevint, Saul and Samuel at Endor, vii. (1674) 161. It has also been prefixed, with the sense "that is a woman," to nouns (often in disparaging use) but also with intensive force, as she-woman. Now it is somewhat rare: An adjective is a part of speech which modifies a noun, usually making its meaning more specific. ... Look up prefix in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Some she-malady, some unhealthy wanton, Fires thee verily.--Robinson Ellis, The poems and fragments of Catullus, vi. (1871) 4

"Correlative to the he-man is the she-woman, who is equally undesirable."--B. Russell, New Hopes for changing World (1951) 162


It would appear that in some dialects of late Old English the diphthong in this word underwent a change of stress, the older pronunciations [si:o] and [si:e] being replaced by [sjo:] and [sje:]. The latter of these variants is represented by the spelling sȝe of the 13th century; and the phonetic development so far is exactly parallel to that of the Old English feminine person pron. hío, héo, híe, which in the 13th century was pronounced in some dialects [hjo:, hje:], as is shown by the written forms ȝho, ȝhe. As the combination [sj] is acoustically close to [ʃ], and more difficult (according to English habits of articulation) to produce, it is not surprising that [sje:, sjo:] became [ʃe:, ʃo:], these being the pronunciations expressed by the written forms scæ (midland, c 1150) and sco, scho (northern, a 1300). It has been objected to this view that in ONorthumbrian the feminine sing. of the demonstrative was not sio, seo, but ðeo, ðiu. Instances of seo, sio are, however, found in the Lindisfarne Gospels and the glosses to the Durham Ritual and Hymnarium; and the extant remains of the dialect represent a very small portion of the Northumbrian territory. With regard to the substitution of the demonstrative pronoun for the original person pronoun, it may be remarked that the phonetic development of various dialects had in the 12th and 13th century rendered the pronouns he (masculine) and heo (feminine) almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation. There was therefore where these dialects were spoken a strong motive for using the unambiguous feminine demonstrative instead of the feminine personal pronoun. Further, the districts in which she or sho first appears in the place of heo are marked by the abundance of Scandinavian elements in the dialect and place-names; and in Old Norse the demonstrative pronoun (of all genders) is often used as a personal pronoun. It is also noteworthy that in Old Saxon and Old High German. the feminine person pronoun nominative singular was siu (modern German sie, Dutch zij), corresponding to Old English sío (the oblique cases, and the masculine and neut. in the singular, being from the stems hi-, i-); and in Old Frisian se 'she' occurs beside hiu.The conjecture that she represents the Old Norse sjá this (nominative singular masculine and feminine) is untenable: the initial [ʃ] is sufficiently accounted for otherwise, and the vowels do not agree. It is however possible that the change from the falling to the rising diphthong in the development both of hío and sío may be due to Scandinavian influence, as in Old Norse the Germanic eu and iu became rising diphthongs. Some scholars have maintained that she and its dialectal variants descend directly from the pronunciations [hje:, hjo:] of heo (referred to above); the contention being that [hj] might naturally develop into [ʃ]. This development has occurred in some Norwegian dialects, and it is illustrated by the proper names Shetland and Shapinshay from Old Norse Hjaltland and Hjalpandisøy. There is slight support for this view in the existence of north. dialect forms such as shoop representing Old English héope. Other views are that [ʃ] was substituted for the un-English sound [ç], developed from [hj], and that it arose from the sequence -s + j- in such contexts as was hió.The first type (to which the modern literary form belongs) is in origin East Midland, while the other type is originally northern. Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon) is an early form of the English language that was spoken in parts of what is now England and southern Scotland between the mid-fifth century and the mid-twelfth century. ... Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of Matthew. ... Section from Shepherds map of the British Isles about 802 AD showing the kingdom of Northumbria Northumbria is primarily the name of a petty kingdom of Angles which was formed in Great Britain at the beginning of the 7th century, from two smaller kingdoms of Bernicia and Diera, and... A demonstrative pronoun in grammar and syntax is a pronoun that shows the place of something. ... Saxon may refer to: The Saxon people The Anglo-Saxon people Saxon language: Anglo-Saxon language (the ancestor language of English) Lower Saxon language (a variety of Low German) Old Saxon language (the ancestor language of Anglo-Saxon language) Upper Saxon dialect (a variety of High German) An inhabitant of... The term Old High German (OHG, German: Althochdeutsch) refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. ... The nominative case is a grammatical case for a noun. ... Old Frisian was the West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries by the people who, from their ancient homes in North Germany and Denmark, had settled in the area between the Rhine and Elbe on the European North Sea coast in the 4th and 5th centuries. ...


English has a number of epicene general words, such as person, anyone, everyone, and no one, but it has no gender-neutral singular personal pronouns. Instead, we have he, she, and it. The traditional approach has been to use the masculine pronouns he and him to cover all persons, male and female alike. That this practice has come under increasing attack has caused the single most difficult problem in the realm of sexist language. Gender-neutral language (gender-generic, gender-inclusive, non-sexist, or sex-neutral language) is language that attempts to refer neither to males nor females when discussing an abstract or hypothetical person whose sex cannot otherwise be determined. ... It has been suggested that Androgynous pronoun be merged into this article. ...

The inadequacy of the English language in this respect becomes apparent in many sentences in which the generic masculine pronoun sits uneasily. Lawyers seem to force it into the oddest contexts—e.g.: "If a testator fails to provide by will for his surviving spouse [a she?] who married the testator after the execution of the will, the omitted spouse shall receive the same share of the estate he [i.e., the spouse] would have received if the decedent left no will" (Unif. Probate Code, 1989).

"There are," as H. W. Fowler noted (with contributions from Ernest Gowers), Henry Watson Fowler (10 March 1858 - 26 December 1933) was an English schoolmaster, lexicographer and commentator on usage, notable for both Fowlers Modern English Usage (first published 1926) and his work on the Concise Oxford Dictionary. ... Sir Ernest Gowers (1880 - 1966) was a British civil servant, now best known for work on style guides for the writing of the English language. ...

three makeshifts: first, as anybody can see for himself or herself; second, as anybody can see for themselves; and third, as anybody can see for himself. No one who can help it chooses the first; it is correct, and is sometimes necessary, but it is so clumsy as to be ridiculous except when explicitness is urgent, and it usually sounds like a bit of pedantic humour. The second is the popular solution; it sets the literary man's [!] teeth on edge, and he exerts himself to give the same meaning in some entirely different way if he is not prepared to risk the third, which is here recommended. It involves the convention (statutory in the interpretation of documents) that where the matter of sex is not conspicuous or important the masculine form shall be allowed to represent a person instead of a man, or say a man (homo) instead of a man (vir).--Modern English Usage.

At least two other makeshifts are now available. The first is commonly used by American academics: as anybody can see for herself. Such phrases are often alternated with those containing masculine pronouns, or, in some writing, appear uniformly. Whether this phraseology will someday stop sounding strange to most readers only time will tell. This is one possibility, however, of: (1) maintaining a grammatical construction; and (2) avoiding the awkwardness of alternatives such as himself or herself.

But the method carries two risks. First, unintended connotations may in vade the writing. In the 1980s, a novel was published in two versions, one using generic masculine pronouns and the other using generic feminine pronouns; the effects on readers of the two versions were reported to have been startlingly different in ways far too complex for discussion here. Second, this makeshift is likely to do a disservice to women in the long run, for it would probably be adopted only by a small minority of writers: the rest would continue with the generic masculine pronoun.

A second new makeshift has entered Canadian legislation: as anybody can see for themself; if a judge decides to recuse themself. (Donald L. Revell et al., " 'Themself' and Nonsexist Style in Canadian Legislative Drafting," 10 English Today 10 (1994).) The word themself fills the need for a gender-neutral reflexive pronoun, but many readers and writers—especially Americans—bristle at the sight or the sound of it. Thus, for the legal writer, this make-shift carries a considerable risk of distracting readers.

Typographical gimmickry may once have served a political purpose, but it should be avoided as an answer to the problem. Tricks such as s/he, he/she, and she/he—and even the gloriously misbegotten double entendre,s/he/it—are trendy, ugly, distracting, and often unpronounceable. If we must have alternatives, he or she is the furthest we should go.

Sometimes this gets quite out of hand. But it's rare to see such an example as this: "If a child is not corrected when he/she first misspells a word, by the time he/she is in eighth grade, the errors are so ingrained they are never even noticed…. I think it is a disservice to the child to let him/her go along for seven years and then tell him/her that the spelling is all wrong" (Ariz. Republic/Phoenix Gaz.). What about letting him/her go seven years using he/she and him/her, when reasonable readers will think that he/she is off his/her rocker?

For the persuasive writer—for whom credibility is all—the writer's point of view matters less than the reader's. Thus, if one is writing for an unknown or a broad readership, the only course that does not risk damaging one's credibility is to write around the problem. For this purpose, every writer ought to have available a repertoire of methods to avoid the generic masculine pronoun. No single method is sufficient. Thus, in a given context, one might consider doing any of the following:

  • Delete the pronoun reference altogether, e.g., "Every manager should read memoranda as soon as they are delivered to him [delete to him] by a mail clerk."
  • Change the pronoun to an article, such as a or the. E.g.: "An author may adopt any of the following dictionaries in preparing his [read a] manuscript."
  • Pluralize, so that he becomes they. E.g.: "A student should avoid engaging in any activities that might bring discredit to his school." (Read: Students should avoid engaging in any activities that might bring discredit to their school.)
  • Use the relative pronoun who, especially when the generic he follows an if. E.g.: "If a student cannot use standard English, he cannot be expected to master the nuances of the literature assigned in this course." (Read: A student who cannot use standard English cannot be expected to master the nuances of the literature assigned in this course.)
  • Repeat the noun instead of using a pronoun, especially when the two are separated by several words. E.g.: "When considering a manuscript for publication, the editor should evaluate the suitability of both the subject matter and the writing style. In particular, he [read the editor]…."

    Though the masculine singular personal pronoun may survive awhile longer as a generic term, it will probably be displaced ultimately by they, which is coming to be used alternatively as singular or plural. This usage is becoming commonplace—for example:

  • Anyone who has subscribed to the Literary Review for more than one year may join, as long as they are proposed by a writer known to the committee.--Sunday Times (London)
  • It is assumed that, if someone is put under enough pressure, they will tell the truth, or the truth will emerge despite the teller.--Robin T. Lakoff, Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives, 1990
  • Anyone planning a dissertation on Hollywood's fling with yuppie demonology will want to include 'The Temp' in their calculations" (New York Times).

Speakers of American English resist this development more than speakers of British English, in which the indeterminate they is already more or less standard. That it sets many literate Americans' teeth on edge is an unfortunate setback to what promises to be the ultimate solution to the problem.

See also

  • Gender-specific pronoun



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