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She is a feminine third-person, singular personal pronoun (subjective case) in Modern English. In 1999, the American Dialect Society chose "she" as the word of the past millennium.[1]

Personal pronouns in standard Modern English
Person (gender) Subject Object Dependent possessive Independent possessive Reflexive
First I me my mine myself
Second you your yours yourself
Third Masculine he him his himself
Feminine she her hers herself
Neuter it its itself
Epicene they them their theirs themselves
First we us our ours ourselves
Second you your yours yourselves
Third they them their theirs themselves


The use 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).

She can also be used instead of it for things to which feminine gender is conventionally attributed: a ship or boat (especially 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.

  • HMS Elizabeth was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 17 October 1769 at Portsmouth Dockyard. She was broken up in 1797.

She can refer to abstractions personified as feminine, and also for the soul, a city, a country, an army, the Church, and others.

  • "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

Rarely and archaically, she referred to an immaterial thing without personification. Also of natural objects considered to be 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 Dutch.

She has been used for her, as an object or governed by a preposition, both in literary use (now rare), or vulgarly, as an emphatic oblique (object) case.

  • "I want no angel, only she." — Olive Schreiner Story African Farm ii. xiii. (1889) 284
  • " '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).

She is also used attributively, 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, and others. She-friend meant a female friend, often in bad sense, that is, a mistress; but she-saint, was simply a female saint. Rarely she was also prefixed to masculine nouns in place of the (later frequent) feminine suffix -ess.

  • "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 to nouns with the sense "that is a woman", often in disparaging use but also with intensive force, as she-woman. Now it is somewhat rare:

  • "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


According to Dennis Baron's Grammar and Gender:

In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she". By the 12th and 13th centuries, these had often weakened to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine pronoun she, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system…[2]

Probably, the etymology of she derived from an alteration of the Old English feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun: seo 'that' one.[3] In Middle English, the new feminine pronoun she seems to have been intentionally artificial, to fulfill the linguistic need.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1999 Words of the Year, Word of the 1990s, Word of the 20th Century, Word of the Millennium". American Dialect Society. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  2. ^ Baron, Dennis (1986). Grammar and Gender. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03526-8. 
    As cited by: Williams, John (1990s). "History – Native-English GNPs". Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ. Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  3. ^ Example, American Heritage Dictionary Archived 2008-12-06 at the Wayback Machine. and Online Etymology Dictionary derive she from the demonstrative pronoun seo. However, Merriam-Websters Dictionary derives she from an alteration of the variant form of heo, being hye.