She (pronoun)

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In Modern English, she is a singular, feminine, third-person pronoun.

Morphology[edit]

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

History[edit]

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. In early Middle English, one case was lost, and distinct pronouns started to develop. The modern pronoun it developed out of the neuter, singular in the 12th century. Her developed out of the feminine singular dative and genitive forms. 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

The evolution of she is disputed.[4]:118 Some sources claim it evolved "from Old English seo, sio (accusative sie), fem. of demonstrative pronoun (masc. se) 'the,' from PIE root *so- 'this, that'" (see the).[5] "In Middle English, the Old English system collapses, due to the gradual loss of þe and the replacement of the paradigm se, seo, þæt by indeclinable that."[4]:296

A more likely account is what is sometimes called the ' Shetland Theory', since it assumes a development parallel to that of Shetland < OScand. Hjaltland, Shapinsay < Hjalpandisey, etc. The starting point is the morphologically and chronologically preferable hēo. Once again we have syllabicity shift and vowel reduction, giving [heo̯] > [he̯o] > [hjoː]. Then [hj-] > [ç-], and [ç-] > [ʃ-], giving final [ʃoː].[4]:118

Obviously, this doesn't lead to the modern form she /ʃiː/. "So any solution that gets [ʃ] from /eo/ also needs to 'correct' the resultant /oː/ (outside the north) to /eː/. This means an analogical transfer of (probably) the /eː/ of he."[4]:118 None of this is entirely plausible.

The -self forms developed in early Middle English, with hire self becoming herself.[6] By the 15th century, the Middle English forms of she had solidified into those we use today.[4]:120

Gender[edit]

He had three genders in Old English, but in Middle English, the neuter and feminine genders split off. Today, she is the only feminine pronoun in English. It is occasionally used as a gender neutral, third-person, singular pronoun (see also singular they).[1]:492

Syntax[edit]

Functions[edit]

She can appear as a subject, object, determiner or predicative complement.[1] The reflexive form also appears as an adjunct. She occasionally appears as a modifier in a noun phrase.

  • Subject: She's there; her being there; she paid for herself to be there.
  • Object: I saw her; I introduced him to her; She saw herself.
  • Predicative complement: The only person there was her.
  • Dependent determiner: This is her book.
  • Independent determiner: This is hers.
  • Adjunct: She did it herself.
  • Modifier: The she goat was missing.

Dependents[edit]

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

Semantics[edit]

She's referents are generally limited to individual, female persons, excluding the speaker and the addressee.

Generic[edit]

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

  • ?If either your mother or father would like to discuss it, I'll talk to her.

Non-human she[edit]

She can be used for countries as political entities, but not as geographical entities.[1]:487

  • Canada really found her place in the world in during WWII.
  • *Canada's prairies are grassland, and she has five great lakes in Ontario.

She can also be used for ships and other inanimate objects of significance to the owner.[7]:ch. 4

Deities[edit]

"She" may refer to a particular goddess or to a monotheistic God when regarded as female. In this case it may be written "She" with reverential capitalization.

Pronunciation[edit]

According to the OED, the following pronunciations are used:

Form Plain Unstressed Recording
she (UK) /ʃiː/

(US) /ʃi/

/ʃᵻ/

/ʃᵻ/

female speaker with US accent
her (UK) /həː/

(US) /hər/

/(h)ə/

/(h)ər/

female speaker with US accent
hers (UK) /həːz/

(US) /hərz/

female speaker with US accent
herself (UK) /həːˈsɛlf/

(US) /hərˈsɛlf/

female speaker with US accent

Other[edit]

In 1999, she was selected as the word of the millennium by the American Dialect Society.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d 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 c d e f Blake, Norman, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English Language: Volume II 1066–1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ "she | Origin and meaning of she by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  6. ^ "herself | Origin and meaning of herself by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  7. ^ Curzan, Anne (2003). Gender shifts in the history of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  8. ^ "1999 Words of the Year, Word of the 1990s, Word of the 20th Century, Word of the Millennium". American Dialect Society. 13 January 2000. Retrieved 24 March 2021.

See also[edit]