He (pronoun)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

In Modern English, he is a singular, masculine, third-person pronoun.


In Standard Modern English, he has four shapes representing five distinct word forms:[1]


Old English had a single third-person pronoun — from the Proto-Germanic demonstrative base *khi-, from PIE *ko- "this"[3] — which had a plural and three genders in the singular. The modern pronoun it developed out of the neuter singular, starting to appear without the h in the 12th century. Her developed out of the feminine singular dative and genitive forms, while the other feminine forms and the plural were replaced with other words. The older pronoun had the following forms:

Old English, third-person pronoun[4]:117
Singular Plural
Masculine Neuter Feminine
Nominative hit hēo (e)
Accusative hine hit hīe (e)
Dative him him hire him / heom
Genitive his his hire hira / heora

In the 12th century, it started to separate and appear without an h. Around the same time, one case was lost, and distinct pronouns started to develop. The -self forms developed in early Middle English, with hine self becoming himself.[5] By the 15th century, the Middle English forms of he had solidified into those we use today.[4]:120


He had three genders in Old English, but in Middle English, the neuter and feminine genders split off. Today, he is the only masculine pronoun in English. In the 18th century, it was suggested as a gender-neutral pronoun, and was thereafter often prescribed in manuals of style and school textbooks until around the 1960s.[6] More recently, this use of he has become less accepted, and singular they is becoming the dominant form.[7]



He can appear as a subject, object, determiner or predicative complement.[8] The reflexive form also appears as an adjunct. He occasionally appears as a modifier in a noun phrase.

  • Subject: He's there; him being there; his being there; he paid for himself to be there.
  • Object: I saw him; I introduced her to him; He saw himself.
  • Predicative complement: The only person there was him.
  • Dependent determiner: I met his friend.
  • Independent determiner: This is his.
  • Adjunct: He did it himself.
  • Modifier: The he goat was missing.


Pronouns rarely take dependents, but it is possible for he to have many of the same kind of dependents as other noun phrases.


He's referents are generally limited to individual male persons, excluding the speaker and the addressee. He is always definite and usually specific.


The pronoun he can also be used to refer to an unspecified person, as in If you see someone in trouble, help him. (See Gender above). This can seem very unnatural, even ungrammatical, as in these examples:

  • ?When somebody gives birth, it's good for him to have assistance.
  • ?If either your mother or father would like to discuss it, I'll talk to him.


When speaking of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit, some Christians use the capitalised forms "He", "His" and "Him" in writing, and in some translations of the Bible.[a]


According to the OED, the following pronunciations are used:

Form Plain Unstressed Recording
he (UK) /ˈhiː/

(US) /hi/



female speaker with US accent
him /hɪm/ /ɪm/
female speaker with US accent
his /hɪz/ /ɪz/
female speaker with US accent
himself /hɪmˈsɛlf/
female speaker with US accent


  1. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Lass, Roger, ed. (1999). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume III 1476–1776. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)
  3. ^ "it | Origin and meaning of it by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  4. ^ a b Blake, Norman, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume II 1066–1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ "himself, pron. and n." Oxford English Dictionary.
  6. ^ O'Conner, Patricia; Kellerman, Stewart (21 July 2009). "On Language - "All-Purpose Pronoun"". New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  7. ^ Locker, Melissa (10 December 2019). "Merriam Webster Names 'They' As Its Word of the Year for 2019". Time. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  8. ^ Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.


Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]