He

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He (/ˈh/, unstressed /i/) is a third-person, singular personal pronoun (subjective case) in Modern English, as well as being a personal pronoun in Middle English.

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Singular Plural
Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive Subject Object Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
First I me my mine myself we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourself you your yours yourselves
Third Masculine he him his himself they them their theirs themselves
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Nonspecific they them their theirs themself
(themselves)

Usage[edit]

People[edit]

"He" can be used as a substitution of a male's name.

Animals[edit]

"He" and "she" are often used to refer to domesticated animals and sometimes non-domesticated animals of the respective sex.

Gender neutral[edit]

A study has shown that "there was a rather extended period of time in the history of the English language when the choice of a supposedly masculine personal pronoun (him) said nothing about the gender or sex of the referent."[1]

The use of "he" to refer to a person of unknown gender was often prescribed by manuals of style and school textbooks from the early 18th century until around the 1960s, an early example of which is Anne Fisher's 1745 grammar book "A New Grammar".[2]

  • A good student always does his homework.
  • If someone asks you for help, give it to him.
  • When a customer argues, always agree with him.

This may be compared to usage of the word man to humans in general.

  • "All men are created equal."
  • "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
  • "Man cannot live by bread alone."

Gender-specific pronouns were also prescribed when one might presume that most members of some group are the same gender (although in recent times, such presumptions are sometimes seen as offensive).

  • A secretary should keep her temper in check.
  • A janitor should respect his employers.
  • Every plumber has his own tools.
  • A nurse should always be kind to her patients.

In recent years, the use of "he", "him" or "his" as gender-neutral pronouns is often discouraged.[citation needed]

Other[edit]

The pronoun He, with a universally capitalized H, is often used to refer to the Supreme Being, or in Christian contexts, to Jesus Christ; "It", with a capitalized I, is also used when speaking of the Supreme Being's nature or Godhead, or in Christian contexts, to refer to the Logos; capitalized "He" and "It" have both been used to refer to the Holy Spirit. In Catholic Christian circles, the Blessed Sacrament is also referred to with the capitalized pronoun "It".

Gender[edit]

The gender system in Modern English is generally natural, semantic and logical; however it is most similar to languages whose gender systems primarily distinguish between the animate and inanimate, and between the personal and impersonal.[3] In the table RP stands for relative pronoun and PP for personal pronoun.

Gender classes in Modern English
Gender Class Example RP PP
animate personal 1. male brother who he
2. female sister who she
3. dual doctor who he/she, he, they
generic 4. common baby who
which
he/she/it
it
5. collective family which
who
it
they
impersonal 6. higher male animal bull which
(who)
he/it
he
7. higher female animal cow which
(who)
she/it
she
8. lower animal ant which it (he/she)
inanimate 9. inanimate carbon rod which it

Notes: RP is relative pronoun and PP personal pronoun. Alternatives are presented in three ways:
slash (/) — used equally; above & below — first preferred; parentheses "()" — disputed or unusual usage.


Etymology[edit]

Indo-European[edit]

The reconstructed Indo-European language provides a demonstrative pronoun ko.[4]

Germanic[edit]

English is a development of the West Germanic language family.

Old English[edit]

Old English pronouns
Nominative IPA Accusative Dative Genitive
1st Singular [ɪtʃ] mec / mē mīn
Dual wit [wɪt] uncit unc uncer
Plural [weː] ūsic ūs ūser / ūre
2nd Singular þū [θuː] þec / þē þē þīn
Dual ġit [jɪt] incit inc incer
Plural ġē [jeː] ēowic ēow ēower
3rd Singular Masculine [heː] hine him his
Neuter hit [hɪt] hit him his
Feminine hēo [heːo] hīe hiere hiere
Plural hīe [hiːə] hīe heom heora


Speakers of Old English (OE) considered each noun to have a grammatical gender — masculine, feminine or neuter.[5] Pronouns were generally (but not always)[6] selected to have the same grammatical gender as the noun they referred to. For example, dæg [dæj] 'day') was masculine, so a masculine pronoun was used when referring to a day or days. The pronoun "he" was written he, as in Present-Day English (PrDE), but pronounced [heː], rather like PrDE hay.

Middle English[edit]

Personal pronouns in Middle English
Singular Plural
Nominative Oblique Genitive Nominative Oblique Genitive
First ik / ich / I me my(n) we us oure
Second þou / thou þee / thee þy(n) / thy(n) ȝe / ye ȝow / you ȝower / your
Third Impersonal hit hit / him his he
þei / they
hem
þem / them
her
þeir / their
Masculine he him his
Feminine ȝho / scho / sche hire hire

There was one change to the inflection of the masculine pronoun in Middle English. The OE dative form him replaced the OE accusative hine [hinə]. This meant that, in Middle English, there was no distinction between masculine and impersonal, except in the subject case of the third-person singular, until it from hit replaced him in the object case of the impersonal. Some people believe "there was rather an extended period of time in the history of the English language when the choice of a supposedly masculine personal pronoun (him) said nothing about the gender or sex of the referent."[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Susanne Wagner, Gender in English Pronouns: Myth and Reality, PhD thesis, Albert Ludwigs Universität, 2003. Page 41.
  2. ^ Patricia T. O'Conner; Stewart Kellerman (July 21, 2009). "All-Purpose Pronoun". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Randolf Sidney Quirk, Geoffrey Greenbaum and Ian Svartvik, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, (London: Longman, 1985), p. 314.
  4. ^ 'Ko', The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000).
  5. ^ Peter S Baker, Introduction to Old English, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).
  6. ^ Greville Corbett, Gender, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
  7. ^ Susanne Wagner (22 July 2004). Gender in English pronouns: Myth and reality (PDF). Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. 

Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, 1985.

External links[edit]